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Emily Panter was initially hesitant about her new role with the RSPB...
If you get the chance to volunteer for the community engagement internship with RSPB then do it! There has never been a better time to do something than now.
I can honestly say it has been one of the best paths I have taken throughout my journey into conservation. Coming out of university, I had a couple of jobs here and there but nothing that I felt was quite right for me. I started to feel a bit lost, deflated and tired.
Then in April last year Carolyn Robertson, GNaH Cardiff Project Manager, got in contact with me and told me about the volunteer internship that was coming up. I hesitantly applied thinking I would either not be accepted for the post or, that it wouldn’t be right for me again. So, when I got an interview and eventually got the news that I had been successful in gaining the place, I was very happy and excited for the future ahead, although still a little bit nervous.
The first week or so I was still trying to find my feet. Then I realised this internship with the RSPB is not like other internships, where you end up photocopying, daydreaming and clock watching (well I did do one day of photocopying but that was to help with the super swift survey project and who doesn’t want to help a good cause?!?) It is an internship where YOU choose what YOU want to do, YOU get to learn about the variety of work the RSPB do, come face to face with the team on the ground as well as directors, managers and other like-minded volunteers.
I’ve always wanted to inspire and encourage young children to go outdoors and enjoy nature, as that is what I did as a child and perhaps that is why I am so interested in saving and protecting it. This is so important right now as RSPB measured that only 21% of children aged 8-12 see themselves connected to nature. The internship gave me a perfect opportunity to do just this. So I helped on the education outreach sessions. It was a daunting thought of 30 small bright-eyed children staring up at me. But shadowing the education officers, Smitch and Kelly, gave me great examples and role models to learn from. I managed to build up the confidence and courage and even led a couple of the school sessions myself! It was very rewarding to see the children eager to give wildlife a habitat on their school grounds, or excited to talk about the slugs and snails they had found.
The internship has given me the chance to meet a variety of communities and engage with families around Cardiff. Enabling me to connect and communicate with unique and interesting individuals, which really has strengthened my interpersonal and communication skills. Which I think is an important tool to carry through into future jobs and my personal life.
Throughout my time with RSPB I have many interesting memories; From getting lost in allotments, receiving giant cabbages, to graffitiing #wildcardiff in the centre of Cardiff whilst making seed bombs with lots of little children and Cardiffs mayor. None of which I would have thought I would be doing, but I am so glad I did.
I have had the chance to work with some inspiring, hardworking and kind individuals from RSPB and the organisations they are in partnership with; Buglife and Cardiff Council Rangers. All of which have helped me develop and learn new skills.
How a group of intrepid volunteers helped create our stand for the Countryfile Live event...
It all began back in February at Hope Farm with five volunteers briefed and ready to start building our main event feature for the stand, which came to be lovingly referred to as the TARDIS! This year it was a hexagonal structure that could display large, stunning habitat images with an area in front for associated planting. Piece of cake! (Well doughnuts are actually the volunteers’ preference.)
Working in a barn, the volunteers set about using anything stored from previous years that could be recycled – from wood for the structure to polystyrene packaging for a dry stone wall.
Once built and tested, the structure had to be dismantled and moved to another barn so it wasn’t in the way during Open Farm Sunday. On the Friday before the show volunteers and staff loaded up the lorry bound for Blenheim Palace.
There were only two days to build and arrange everything in the marquee for the show. Both volunteers and staff put in long hours getting it finished. This year temperatures rose to 27 degrees centigrade making it that much tougher, but the result was quite something. Six habitats, family activities, recruitment and pin badge areas and a shop!
During the show days we had many volunteers, again working long hours, assisting with the Wild Challenge family activities (mini beast hotels, upcycled bug bottles and little tern flappers) and pin badge sales. Always eager to welcome visitors to our stand and help the children make their first mini beast hotel, even though it may have been their thirty-second one!
Thanks to volunteer support, during the four show days, we made just over £800 on pin badges, 183 new memberships and nearly 400 children took part in our Wild Challenge activities. But the work didn’t stop there! When the last visitor left the show it was time to start breaking down the stand, load the lorry and head back home for a well-earned cup of tea (and maybe one last doughnut!)
To all our volunteers that played a role in making this event possible, we really can’t say a big enough thank you!
Natalie Harrison takes a look at how Volunteering with us can have many positive impacts on your health...
Making a difference lies at the heart of what it is to be a volunteer. Undoubtedly, we have a positive effect on the lives of those around us. And in doing so, we break free from the snares of social isolation, meet new people, and forge new friendships. Voluntary work helps foster a sense of community. It brings together people from diverse backgrounds, from all walks of life. We learn new skills and discover new interests and hobbies.
So, sure - sharing our time and skills helping good causes and other people feels good. Undoubtedly, it increases our life satisfaction and imbues us with a sense of wellbeing, companionship and purpose. But what about the impact on our mental and physical health? Are there any tangible effects?
Volunteering – what is it good for?
When it comes to the health benefits of voluntary work, even a cursory glance at academic research papers will show you that the factors to be considered are many and complex. Nevertheless, numerous studies have been carried out looking at various health outcomes – evidence shows that giving your time for as little as two hours a week will reap rewards. In terms of mental health, increased social contact appears to fend off depression (and of course, loneliness, too). Doing the right thing has even been shown to mitigate cognitive decline in those aged 60 and over.
In adults in general, stress levels, physical exertion and strength have been monitored, with improvements noted by researchers at the University of Oxford. It sounds pretty obvious; if you’re struggling with a sedentary lifestyle and want to get to work increasing your general fitness, undertaking a physical role will help you move towards that goal. There’s significant payoff in such altruistic acts, too, with lowered blood pressure and a longer life span a gift we’d all be happy to receive.
Positive effects are seen with the younger population, too. A study of Canadian high school students revealed that compared to those who did not volunteer, those who did reduced their risk of cardiovascular disease, and, overall, lowered their BMI and lost more weight into the bargain. So it seems that in health terms, there’s good reason to volunteer no matter what your age may be.
Volunteer - but suit yourself.
One thing to remember, that said, regards finding the right fit. It’s been proven to be important in terms of reaping health returns when volunteering. When the right activity or volunteering role marries up with an individual’s values, improvements in health are said to occur. So, don’t be put off if at first you don’t find the right role for you – if you care about nature and the great outdoors, but prefer working with people in a hospitality-driven buzzy environment (beehives not included), then working in one of our cafes and shops might suit you best. Or perhaps, rather than working with wood building fences, your skills lie more in treading the boards. There’s even a volunteering opportunity to act in our short films! (You can read a separate blog, What Volunteering is right for me? here)
Rest, reduce, revive.
Rest and relaxation are fundamental to our general health. So of course, from time to time we all need that well-earned break. But if the idea of lounging around poolside for a week doesn’t quite cut it - you want to combine a change of scenery with giving something back, perhaps - getting away from it all on one of our residential placements might be just the ticket. The best of both worlds – bag yourself a well-earned break, and lower your stress levels and increase your fitness.