I’ve been a volunteer for about two years and come here every Thursday. I saw the advertisement asking for volunteer gardeners. I’m not a gardener, I just like gardening and love my own garden.
I don’t live far away – I can walk here in the summer. I love being with the companions and vulnerable people; I worked with children with hearing impairments and special needs before I retired and this is obviously completely different, but all the basics are the same; how to speak to people, what might trigger and what might not trigger people, and how to handle it. That experience has helped me in this role. That, and having a good sense of humour!
What have you been working on in the garden?
When I first came the polytunnel wasn’t up, so one of the companions did that for me. The little allotment area wasn’t there, so we’ve dug that over to grow vegetables and we’ve also put bird feeders in a lovely area alongside. I go on Freecycle and I get loads of stuff for nothing, recycled plants and all sorts. As well as setting up a bird feeding area, I showed the companions how to make an insect hotel, so we’ve got a richer variety of wildlife now and have now spotted hedgehogs. We’ve also installed a small pond which has attracted the frogs and now we have 100s of froglets!
No Mow May
This year we took part in No Mow May, the annual campaign calling on all garden owners and green space managers not to mow. This allows the wildflowers in your lawn to grow wild to encourage pollinators and tackle pollution.
Last year we hosted a course involving companions taking part in gardening, which meant we had a larger harvest than we have this year. But it doesn’t matter how many are involved, it’s all good for their mental health, being in the garden and helping out. If the seeds don’t grow, we learn that everything is not perfect and failure can happen, but we learn how to deal with it. So we realise that there are many other benefits besides the actual plants flourishing.
I’m currently working with one or two companions and you can see the benefits that being outside has on them – it has a calming influence and is so good for their mental wellbeing. They absolutely love it. It’s who I am as much as who they are – I just love helping people and being outside in nature as well, I love it.
What are your plans for the future?
Just keep giving me teams of volunteers from corporate businesses! We’ve had a few teams in recently who have done some great work for us. We had a team in to help the other week to clear two areas of the front garden. Membrane was laid down, with bark on top, along with taking away the old fence. Of course, I can’t do that, it’s too big a job, so we got this army of volunteers in and they did such a good job. They were brilliant and they came back the following week. They were teams from gas provider Cadent and Morrisons the builders – they came and they worked like mad and were really interested in Emmaus, they were absolutely fabulous. I was nearly in tears because I’d wanted that doing for such a long time!
We also had a team from Bunzl who were also brilliant clearing up after ‘No Mow May’ and rescuing a resident hedgehog from the undergrowth. They sent teams in twice and they’ve made a huge difference to our environment.
Would you recommend that other people volunteer?
Yes absolutely, if you’re that type of person. It depends on your personality I think and I’m one of these people whose attitude is, “If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. We had good fun doing it but it happens, let’s move on, we did our best”. It’s about not having too many expectations, which I did have in the beginning, but you learn as you go along. I would definitely recommend it and particularly if they enjoy gardening, but volunteering in the shop as well, that’s great. I helped in there during the winter and loved it. I worked in retail before I worked in schools, so I had some experience which helped.