My dad thinks that volunteering is crazy.
“Why don’t they get jobs?” he asks of the group of people who turn up week in week out in a car park in Canterbury in Kent to be ferried off around the county to do practical conservation work. “Why work for nothing?” he says, “They are fools.”
But, In this, my dad is the foolish one. Choosing to give your time voluntarily to something you believe in, working outdoors in beautiful places with your hands, making a difference is one of the most enriching things you can do.
When I first took over the running of the volunteer group I was in a dark place. I had been made redundant, my relationship had ended, I was in Kent where I knew few people and didn’t really know why I was still there. But going out every Thursday with the volunteers, I forgot my problems, I became absorbed in the work, I felt the peace of nature, I laughed and then realised it was the first time I had laughed all week.
Over the years the volunteers have become much more than a bunch of conservation workers, we have supported people through depression and probation, we have set people on new roads to new careers, we have banded together through illness and death. I know our gang has helped many people and for the opportunity to do so I am eternally grateful as, through managing this group, I have found that sense of community we are told is so lacking in modern life.
Tomorrow, after five and half years of running the volunteer group, I am leaving to go freelance and to write. Life moves on whether you want it to or not but to give up my volunteers is a big sacrifice. The volunteers are not just a bunch of people I manage because I’m paid to do so. These people are my support network, my sat nav, my diy advisors, the people I phone in a crisis. These people I happily climb out of bed for at 6.30am on a rainy morning, not wanting them to be kept waiting. This is my gang, these are my friends. And so I would be a fool indeed to give this up, from tomorrow I am no longer the group leader, I join the ranks as a volunteer.