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Drive for volunteers at Nature Reserve during National Volunteers Week 

Posted June 4, 2024 by Steph

Cumbrian Watchtree Nature Reserve has been a hub for people who volunteer from its inception, evolving from an ex-RAF airfield and FMD Burial site into a successful community asset supported by a small team of staff and active volunteer teams.  

Initially, a group of seven ambitious volunteers worked alongside the local community, councils and DEFRA, developing the site into what is now a busy nature reserve, accessible cycling centre and educational zone alongside a bustling café, from what is now a trustee run charity. 

What has developed from their dedication and hours of voluntary work is a truly unique place; a social hub for visitors and volunteers alike and such a popular visitor attraction that many people don’t realise how much of it is down to a community of wonderful volunteers who donate many hours of time each week in many different roles each week. 

We chatted to some of Watchtree’s long standing volunteers to find out what attracted them to being a volunteer at Watchtree, and why they put in the hours they do. 

Bob Bushby is one of the original volunteer trustees, helping out in various ways for almost 25 years and points out that many of the current trustees have been volunteers or visitors to Watchtree. He enjoys the social side of Watchtree which has evolved from the regular visitors, service users other volunteers and staff. 

Bob said: “As part of #teamwatchtree, Staff and Volunteers you are supported by a community, and part of an organisation that is well thought of. You regularly see a great variety of people make new friends and reconnect with people you may not have seen in years – it seems that everyone comes to Watchtree!”  

Friends and volunteers John Fell and Don Graham are regularly found giving a cheery smile to the users of Watchtree Wheelers. Both enjoy maintaining and fixing bikes as a hobby, and were delighted to find a volunteering post where they could combine this as well as genuinely helping people.  

Don has volunteered for seven years, with John on eight, and is now on the board of Trustees of Watchtree. Witnessing the growth and development of a great organisation makes John being proud to have had a hand in it: “Seeing the pride and passion of staff members and being able to help them achieve goals is fantastic – we volunteers bring skills and experience from a variety of different backgrounds and it is wonderful that they can be put to good use.” 

Don particularly enjoys helping with the bikes: “I wanted to give something back, without the restraints of work, and also do something I enjoy. We miss the social relationships we had in a workplace environment – but being part of #TeamWatchtree provides a sense of purpose and gives you a specific role for the day.” 

John added “We enjoy the camaraderie of being back on a team. It is a unique facility that we are lucky to have. I used to bring my family here to visit before I retired and there is a huge contrast between being outside most of the time, to my office-based job. We love helping other people who need help, and seeing the regular groups that use the specialist bikes. You get immediate feedback that you never got from watching a spreadsheet or figures on a graph!” 

Watchtree also arranges social events for their volunteers. Says John: “Being ‘part-time’ you miss out on catching up with other volunteers and staff if they come in on different days; however we have had some fantastic whole team away days to places like Lowther Castle and Torpenhow Cheese Farm. Our Christmas parties are legendary and we have regular curry and quiz nights and other meals out.”   

Volunteers at Watchtree offer their time in many ways. Helping in the cafe, weeding and planting up flowerbeds, maintaining bikes, footpaths and drains; marshaling events and car parks, monitoring wildlife and leading weekly walks and runs, providing extra pairs of hands for holiday clubs and school groups – are all just a snapshot of some of the volunteering activities they get up to.  

And it isn’t only retirees who volunteer at Watchtree either –  they have opportunities for people who want to gain experience in certain areas of work, or who are undertaking the Duke of Edinburgh Award, for example. Recently qualified graduates aiming to gather practical experience working in the outdoors, wildlife and conservation have benefitted from the time they have spent volunteering at the reserve.

Bob advises: “You do need transport or a means of getting to Watchtree as it is a remote site, however volunteers are entitled to claim travel expenses so don’t let that put you off. Some days are much busier than others and some days can be cold – or very hot! Our new bike workshop is very pleasant to work in and the cafe is constantly developing.”  

John added: “It’s like a well-kept secret sometimes – it’s always good to bring friends here for the first time – they are always impressed. We like being ambassadors for Watchtree!” 

If you, or anyone you know, would be interested in volunteering at Watchtree, in any capacity, please contact them by calling 01228 712539, or pop in for a chat with one of the team.  

© 2024 Watchtree Nature Reserve. All rights reserved.

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