Chevening x TCV: Helping to Keep England Green and Beautiful
Wednesday morning saw me all bundled up, boarding the Northern Line train to Bentley Priory Nature Reserve, and hearing the birds chirping for the first time since I came to the UK. It was a good omen of the day to come.
I was to meet with 20 more Cheveners and join the The Conservation Volunteers (TCV), a charity that helps to build healthier and happier communities all around the country, in clearing out the meadow in the Bentley Priory Nature Reserve, a 55-hectare park surrounding the Bentley Priory Museum.
What greeted us is a sight that probably comes to mind when you think about the English countryside - tall and ancient woodland, snow-covered meadows, a frozen lake and a bit of fog to add to the mystery. A sight that makes you forget that you are just sixty minutes away from the city, and makes you leave a piece of your heart behind. And in all honesty, after weeks spent haunting the libraries and halls of our universities, it was something we all needed.
After mandatory safety instructions and explanations on when and how to use the equipment, we were presented with our task for the day - preparing the meadow for its spring visitors. What struck me is that while most of us love to spend time in nature and to plan picnics in nearby parks, we rarely pause and think about who is making sure the meadow that greets us next time is as green and as beautiful as the one we left behind.
If you follow the Olympic Games, the information that London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics were carried out with the help of more than 70,000 volunteers, will come as no surprise. Such was their contribution that they were called the 'Games Makers' without whom the event would just not happen.
Volunteering is a strong part of the UK culture and more than 40% of UK citizens volunteer at least once a year. Being an active part of the community and purposely working on the preservation and development of your neighbourhood, school, park, or museum is considered the prerogative of each individual. Most importantly, by helping the community grow, one grows oneself. For someone who is just getting to know the country, this is a great way to connect with its people and their values. That is why Chevening offers ample volunteering opportunities through it’s Community Volunteering and Outreach Programme and this was just one of the things they have planned for our year.
The Conservation Volunteers split us into two groups. The first group was tasked with clearing out the bramble leading to the 'Master', a 500-year-old oak tree which the park is known for. Armed with protective gloves, saws, and loppers we started our fight against the shrub and, at times, less than perfect weather conditions. While the task seemed almost impossible at the start, branch by branch, we managed to free the fence of the shrub and give the Master some breathing room. :)
On the other side of the meadow, the second group worked on creating a footpath at the very edge of the meadow. With its first spring flowers, the meadow sees an increase in visitors as well, and it’s very important they know where to step so as not to interfere with their growth. Our team used tree trunks from cut trees to create footpath borders and made sure to remove all remaining stumps and weeds from the path.
After almost three hours of work, lots of positive energy, laughter, teamwork, exchanged book recommendations, a break for coffee and cookies (hey, they are the volunteers’ fuel!), and an occasional selfie, we were able to look at our work with pride. We were feeling tired and a bit cold, yes, but mostly exhilarated by what we achieved and already making plans on how we can do this again.
We were recommended to visit The Conservation Volunteers website as you get a list of volunteering opportunities around your area just by entering your postcode. And I would like to invite you to join us to. :)
Use this year to get to know all aspects of the UK culture. Whether it’s going for an outdoorsy adventure, or helping in a youth centre, in the days we lose ourselves in the books, volunteering can be just what we need to get us inspired and help us bring a unique perspective to our work. And if you do decide to share the gift of your time, make sure to log your hours or inform your Chevening PO, they would love to know.
As for the Bentley Priory Nature Reserve, I can only imagine how beautiful the park looks in spring, when meadows are filled with colorful flowers and swans return to the now frozen lake. I certainly plan to visit it again and see for myself, and I am always up for some company. :)