Spotlight on Forestry England's work at Westonbirt - Volunteers Week 2024

31 May, 2024

A few days ago, we had the pleasure of talking with Forestry England, who keep everything running over at the Westonbirt National Arboretum. Forestry England are an example of how to put community and inclusivity at the heart of volunteering – which is a key part of their programme.  

Forestry England plays a crucial role in managing and conserving England's diverse natural landscapes, overseeing over 1,500 woods and forests nationwide, each of which are managed by different groups of staff and volunteers.

The Westonbirt National Arboretum provide a variety of accessibility options for their visitors such as volunteer mobility scooters and accessible toilets on-site, to facilitate participation for people with mobility challenges.


How are they accessible to volunteers?

One standout initiative at the Arboretum is their volunteer-led blind walk, where the volunteers help to foster inclusivity. Westonbirt has a dedicated registered blind group who lead guided walks where visitors are given the opportunity to appreciate the trees and landscape using non-visual senses. 

Volunteers go through a supported recruitment process where each new volunteer is given a sighted ‘buddy’ volunteer, and they work together on the day of the walks. Guide dogs also very much accommodated for and made welcome!

Regular communication with volunteers and addressing changing needs due to factors such as age, health, or personal circumstances ensure that their volunteers feel supported and valued. With around 20 different opportunities available, if other volunteer roles appeal to them during their time at Westonbirt they are welcome to switch, and the process is made as easy as possible for them. They achieve this by pairing volunteers that are new into a role with experienced mentors, to ease their transition and ensure a smooth integration into their new responsibilities.

Supporting volunteers who are not able to drive is also a key part of making their opportunities inclusive, so they run a community taxi for volunteers to get to the site. Forestry England have prioritised removing obstacles to volunteering and creating an inclusive environment where everyone can participate.

“Prioritising gratitude, regularly expressing appreciation for volunteers' contributions through both verbal acknowledgment and special events like coffee mornings for current and alumni volunteers and annual BBQ’s is important” 

As always, consistent communication and support is key, with each team having a dedicated point of contact, providing volunteers with an easy method to talk about any concerns or ways to improve their experience.

These team members take a pro-active approach to volunteers’ experiences and engagement, reaching out with a friendly call if they notice any changes or if there are any concerns – letting volunteers know that they are cared for and a valued part of the team.

This personalised approach not only fosters a supportive environment but also helps volunteers feel appreciated throughout their time volunteering. Initially, new volunteers might sign up for occasional shifts, but they often end up discovering a community that feels like family, bringing new opportunities and exciting challenges.

For many volunteers, Westonbirt isn't just a place to volunteer, it's a lifeline. They find comfort amidst the trees and flowers - a place to recharge. Whether it's a tough day at work or personal struggles, being at the arboretum offers them a chance to clear their minds and find peace in nature, all while contributing to the community that exists there.

This strong sense of community, with everyone involved working towards the same goals, all contributes towards Westonbirt being a great place to volunteer – with some having dedicated a decade or more of their lives to this.

You can find out more about everything Forestry England are doing at Westonbirt here: 

Also, did you know that you can advertise volunteer roles for free through Voscur? Click here to submit a volunteer role to be advertised. 

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