The volunteers have a variety of ages and backgrounds. While pre-existing practical skills are an advantage, enthusiasm and a ‘have a go’ attitude are far more important.
Most tools that are used are fairly easy to master. Specialist training is given if you wish to move on to using any of the power tools, such as hedge trimmers, strimmers and brush cutters.
Programme of activities
A list of tasks are sent out with a brief outline covering the next 3-6 months, giving good notice of when and where things will be happening. The community volunteers then indicate which tasks they are available for.
As task dates approach, we approach those who have registered for a particular session to arrange transport. We have a number of established meeting points across the county.
Because jobs are unpredictable, the task schedule is liable to change with additional days or jobs slotted in, sometimes at short notice. Changes are circulated to all volunteers by email.
Types of task
Projects that have been completed in the last year have included the following:
- Bus shelter construction in Findon Valley. Digging down to tunnel level and installing plastic pipes to prevent horse hooves punching through the tunnel roof.
- Flint walling and vegetation management at Fulking to enhance the appearance of Lady Brook spring and prepare the area for planting.
- Island repairs and general maintenance at Cootes Pond, Horsham. Ferrying buckets of material to the island in the pond to build up the surface level, cutting back reeds on the pond edge and restoring the pond to its previous condition.
- Construction of a replacement oak framed barn in Coolham.
- Habitat works at Bersted.
- Installation of planters and laying of stone pathways at Manning Close, East Grinstead, with the aim of reducing parking on grass verges. The site is now maintained by the community and East Grinstead in Bloom, as a community space orchard.
- Vegetation and footway clearance at Easebourne to improve sight lines and space on pavements adjacent to the village primary school.
- Various environmental works in ‘Gatwick Woods’ (land surrounding Gatwick Airport being managed to support wildlife).
- Building of a simulation bus stop in the grounds of Chestnuts Day Centre, Bognor. Attendees are dementia sufferers and the bus stop prompts memory and provides a point of conversation.
- Building decking for a new village hall in Ashurst.
- Vegetation clearance on the A272 at Midhurst to reveal Cowdray ruins, following a request from local council to open up this view from the road.
About a task day
Volunteers normally meet at 8.30am to allow for travel to the site so, depending on travel time, arrival on site tends to be before 10.00am. We begin with a briefing about the task and site to ensure everyone knows what they are doing and cover any particular safety issues. We stop mid to late morning for a tea/coffee break and a second break is taken later for lunch.
Volunteers soon find how to pace themselves, as it is important not to rush at a job and run out of steam. New volunteers are advised not try to match the work rate of more experienced volunteers as people have differing degrees of fitness and strength. There is no need to compete - everyone’s contribution is helpful.
Working days can run on (if we are enjoying ourselves), but during autumn and winter fading light usually curtails action, though a raging bonfire kept us going into the gloom at Midhurst! Usually we aim to be back to our relevant base by 5.00pm or earlier. On labour-intensive days, however, earlier finishes may happen if energy levels have flagged.
Rain or bad weather
Rain or bad weather rarely prevents us from working unless it is heavy enough for the work site to become flooded or too boggy to work on, or the access road becomes impassable. Tasks have been abandoned in such circumstances or teams have been redirected to other tasks that are above the water table.
“Prior to early retirement I had spent the majority of my working life behind a desk but did have some interest and experience of practical work with fairly extensive DIY repertoire.
“The task was described as a ‘vegetation clearance and resurfacing’ task and I was reasonably familiar with the majority of tools that emerged from the back of the Land Rover; loppers and bow saws were fine, but the range of slashers was something new.
“I soon realised that I needed to ‘get into a rhythm’ to last the day, rather than trying too much and then burning out! Mixing a bit of chat with work helped too and everyone seemed friendly and happy to be out in the countryside. Work almost seemed a little incidental!
“Another characteristic that goes down well as a community volunteer is a degree of persistence, for example, the Midhurst clearance task looked somewhat daunting at the outset when confronted with several hundred yards of roadside jungle, but over several sessions it got broken down to something manageable before it got us!
“After more than a year’s experience as a volunteer, there is a distinct ‘hardcore team’ of which I would count myself as a member who are regularly out once or twice a week, and as a result they build up their fitness to a level above that of the casual attender. I certainly regard it as a good alternative to going down the gym.
“I have enjoyed getting to see some new bits of Sussex I had not seen before and also seeing some more familiar bits from different angles. The banter is good and the challenges presented by the tasks keeps us thinking. I’m looking forward to the next task list coming out and booking in some more dates!“
Mark Hilton, community volunteer.