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Volunteering: Part two - how our three days a year make a difference

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The palms of six different hands, in a circle, on a purple cloth backdrop

In the second part of this blog on volunteering, Tania MacDonnell and Emy Yeboah, from Defra’s User Centred Design team, share their experience of volunteering and what inspired them to take part in a volunteering day.

Tania MacDonnell - Propagating trees at Westonbirt Arboretum

Like most of us working in Defra I try my best to minimise my own impact on the environment, but I know I need to do more. Using one of my volunteering days to help with conservation at Westonbirt Arboretum in Gloucestershire seemed like a good place to start.

Although I’ve always loved the Arboretum, particularly at this colourful time of year, I’ve often wondered what goes on ‘behind the scenes’. So, I was slightly apprehensive about the day - I didn’t know what was involved in ‘coppicing’, ‘latticing’ and ‘layering’ but I knew I’d be doing these things.

What we actually did

Along with my colleagues from Defra I donned a hard hat and steel-capped boots so we could layer hazel trees to propagate them. We did this by cutting many of their major stems to stumps and cutting other stems three-quarters of the way through. We then lowered these partly cut stems onto the ground and pegged them at points where we wanted new trees to grow. 

photo of trees that have been cut

We also weaved hazel stems and foliage around the lowered branches to protect them from muntjac deer, who find hazel trees delicious.

What I got out of it

Well, after a busy and wonderful day I can happily say that I’ve seen and experienced life backstage at one of my favourite places.

I spent the day surrounded by beautiful nature, in glorious, autumn technicolour. I boosted my endorphins and I think I made a difference in helping to grow and protect new hazel coppice trees.

Other things - it was good for team morale to solve problems with colleagues. Of course, as content designers we do that all the time, but this time the problems were more tangible; we worked out how to sharpen a stake, how to lay a branch and how to protect our stems from hungry deer. 

I think we can get so wrapped up in the minutiae of our daily jobs that we sometimes forget why we’re really here – because we care about the environment. After all that’s why we all chose to work at Defra. It was a great reminder. 

And finally, even though it was pouring with rain no one seemed to really notice. As we all spend so much time on computers, it’s difficult to get out and stretch and use our bodies properly and this day was physical, real and healthy. 

Emy Yeboah Dementia Adventure – Card making

I was one of the lucky people that volunteered for Dementia Adventure making ‘home-made’ welcome cards.

The work of Dementia Adventure aims to enable people living with dementia to get outdoors, connect with nature, themselves, and their community, and keep a sense of adventure in their lives – whatever ‘adventure’ may mean to the individual.

Each year Dementia Adventure takes around 250 guests away on a supported holiday to one of their lovely destinations including the Lake District, Cornwall & Devon.

The ‘home-made’ welcome cards are to be given to the guests when they arrive at their bedroom, as an additional touch to make guests feel personally welcomed and celebrated.  The cards also convey to these individuals that they matter and that other people, outside of Dementia Adventure are supporting and ‘cheering’ them on.

‘Home-made’ welcome cards, from Defra with love

Brightly coloured cards spread out on a table.

Volunteering for me took place in the office. We started the day with a welcome and introduction from Janet Whitehead (Dementia Adventure Volunteers Manager) over MS Teams, who let us know how Dementia Adventure support people with Dementia.

We were then shown some simple card designs to get us started and our creative ideas flowing. As Dementia Adventure encourages individuals to enjoy nature, we made cards that incorporated this theme. 

Whilst I’m not particularly creative, I really enjoyed working in a group, sharing my ideas and listening to other's suggestions. 

What I enjoyed about my volunteering experience

Volunteering with Dementia Adventure has been a great way to support and contribute to the very worthwhile work that they do. As a group activity, it provided an opportunity to spend time with colleagues and get to know them outside of the usual work setting.    

The cards we all produced received really positive feedback reminding me that even the smallest tasks can make a real difference.

‘I know the holiday guests next year will love them, and the cards will add that personalised welcome to their room when they get to their holiday accommodation. I also know they will be touched that volunteers did them to show support and care for the difficult situation they are in’.

Would I volunteer again?

I think most of us would like to volunteer but find it a challenge to set aside the time to make the necessary arrangements or find the time to take part in the volunteering itself. So, when the opportunity came up to take part in an activity that has been organised for us, I had to take part!

I’d definitely volunteer again. As Defra employees we are lucky to be entitled to three volunteering days per year. 

Ways to volunteer

Find out more about volunteering at Westonbirt Arboretum

Find out more about Dementia Adventure

Visit for more volunteering opportunities. 

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