Sam’s unique volunteering experience at Skelton Grange

For many of us January is a time for setting ourselves targets for the year ahead. Though these goals can involve anything – from cutting down on the amount of chocolate we eat, to reading a new book – the beginning of the year is a time for us to make changes that have been in our head for a while but we’ve yet to put into action.

It’s no surprise then that many of us take the decision to start volunteering projects involving children and young people! So as we’re still in the first month of 2015 we spoke to Sam, a 21 year old university graduate, about his recent experiences of volunteering with Skeleton Grange Enviromental Centre.

Here’s what he had to say:

“After finishing my degree in Ecology I wanted to look for some relevant experience in the field, so I looked online to see what there was around. I noticed the position of a Volunteer Officer at Skelton Grange and it seemed different to other schemes because it gave the opportunity to develop personally and gain new skills, alongside the chance to teach school children and pass on my knowledge to others.

“I decided to apply in June 2014 and was fortunate to get the position. I spent about six months in this role and finished at the end of December 2014. Throughout my time there I did brilliant things and met some wonderful people.

“Skelton’s personality and the effort put in to make it a natural retreat by those that work there was evident upon arrival – this is probably made all the more prominent by the busy industrial site that surrounds it.  When I first arrived I didn’t know what to expect as it was all completely new to me but the staff were very welcoming and friendly so I was made to feel part of the team really quickly.

“For the first month I spent most of my time shadowing existing volunteers and learning about the various education days that the centre hosted. But as I progressed I became more confident and was able to start teaching the education days myself and conservation activities.

“The  first time I was responsible for teaching young people was a ‘minibeasts’ activity day, involving activities like looking for insects under logs and doing pond dipping with the children. These activities, or similar ones, were used for a range of education days, so learning how to teach young people to do these things was pivotal to my role at the centre.

“I can’t stress enough how rewarding it is to pass on knowledge of the natural environment to the next generation and to see the children engaged and enjoying themselves outside. The whole experience was a great personal achievement for me.

“To help my progression lots of different training opportunities were available, including: first aid, safeguarding and a course on how to safely use tools used in the maintenance of the site. Not only did this training help me with the day to day activities at the centres, but I could also apply it to everyday life!

“We were given opportunities to pursue our own projects at the centre and as I have a passion for wildlife I chose to undertake wildlife surveys, counting the number of different plant and animal groups on site. I also had the chance to work with MENCAP groups (an organisation that helps people with learning disabilities) and young carer groups from the surrounding area; I found working with these groups very satisfying as it gave them a chance to try something different.

“I was volunteering during the summer holidays and one of the highlights of my time volunteering was the summer ‘bushcraft camp’ – a two day trip to woodland with children staying overnight. The children were responsible for building their own shelters and cooking their own food and also involved playing games, doing craft work and singing campfire songs.

“During the autumn term there were more indoor education days covering topics like electricity, and rocks and soils. Around this time I was involved in two projects that stand out as highlights of my time at Skelton. One was the Skelton Grange Open Day, an event open to the public aiming to show people what the centre does and getting them involved.

“The open day is the biggest event of the year for the centre and attracts almost 500 people. My role at the open day was to make pitta pizza, a first for me but an enjoyable culinary experience. I also got the opportunity to go round the site and see all of the wonderful activities that were on offer. The other activity was the zombie apocalypse Halloween event that happened for 3 consecutive evenings. This is an event whereby the public walk around the site following a trail with clues. I got to be one of the zombies and attack unsuspecting people as they wandered around the site.

“In December I was involved in the construction of a rustic fence along with other volunteers. There was a lovely winter festival to finish the year which involved lots of Christmas crafts. Afterwards, the staff and volunteers had a Christmas feast, followed by a secret Santa and party games. It was a great end to my time there and topped off an already brilliant year.

“As volunteers regularly come and go, Skelton Grange is always on the lookout for new volunteers to take part. Recruitment for the next batch of volunteer officers is currently taking place with the new volunteers set to start early next month.”

A big thanks to Sam for taking the time to share his experience of volunteering with us today!

If you’ve been inspired by Sam’s story and want to make volunteering with children and young people one of your New Year’s resolutions, the Doing Good Leeds website is a fantastic resource, with information on jobs, training and volunteering roles that are available across the city. For more information, see: http://doinggoodleeds.org.uk/

Are you involved with a volunteering project for children and young people in Leeds? Do you want to get involved as part of your New Year’s plan? Why not let us know on Twitter @child_leeds, or by leaving a comment below…

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