Having been a member of the National Trust for almost 25 years, discovering over 100 properties and 50 estates, with Ashridge being visited regularly throughout this period, the notion of having some closer involvement with the National Trust became more central on my radar screen as years passed by.
I relished the experiences of visiting new properties, chatting to the volunteers and absorbing their knowledge. I admired (and envied) the opportunity of becoming involved in something one could be so passionate about.
Bringing up a family, combined with my career, culminating in co owning a couple of businesses, did not lend towards having any spare time to get the involvement and the ‘buzz’ of becoming involved with the National Trust, which I had been seeking.
However in 2016 a change of circumstances led to me having time on my hands and so I looked to seeking that involvement with the National Trust that had eluded me to date.
It didn’t take too long to work out that Ashridge was the place I wanted to be. I already had a connection with Ashridge and knew it quite well. It is relatively local to where I live (Harpenden), the work is outside and I love to be active and get involved.
I started in July 2016 – and I have not looked back since. I have done so much and I have learnt a great deal. I thought I knew Ashridge! However there was so much that had passed me by. Since volunteering I have even found myself cycling and walking in different places within Ashridge to fill the knowledge gaps.
I realise that in comparison to some of my fellow volunteers I am a ‘newbie’, but, fast forward 18 months and the following gives an idea of what I have done and why my volunteering at Ashridge means so much to me.
Pulling up fences that have fallen into disrepair, clearing ponds, bracken rolling, clearing brash, painting metal railings, building dead hedges and of course, bonfires, all represent just some of the varied tasks done on a Thursday or Sunday. Then there are the events too, whether that is the Easter chocolate trail, the Fun Ride, supervising at Dockey Wood or assisting with the fund raising event for veteran and ancient trees. As time goes on so the range of tasks and experiences get wider.
But what a place to work! And such an enjoyable commute too! Retrieving fallen fencing along Clipper Down with extensive views of the Vale of Aylesbury as a backdrop, or picking ragwort on Ivinghoe Beacon, seeing church steeples piercing through the mist, hugging the contours. It doesn’t get much better than that!
For me it is also about being with like-minded people. It’s about mopping up the knowledge the foresters have and my fellow volunteers too, many of whom have had a life-long interest in flora and fauna and have volunteered for years, often for other organisations as well as the National Trust.
The volunteers are a great bunch of people, from varied backgrounds but with a common passion. We have great fun volunteering and work well as a team with many friendships and additional activities evolving from the work we do.
In the relatively short time I have been volunteering I have learnt so much – and there is so much more to learn too. One often takes for granted one’s immediate environment but volunteering at Ashridge and learning about its history, the land use, the flora and fauna and the Estate’s evolution has been so interesting and rewarding.
Learning new skills is very satisfying and I thoroughly enjoyed spending 3 hours with Emily teaching me and a couple of other volunteers the traditional skill of hedge laying.
Making a difference motivates me. It’s amazing what a team of volunteers can do in a relatively short space of time. One of my highlights and proudest moments was completing the dead hedge around the oak trees at the Visitor Centre in the autumn of 2016. In three hours – a work of art, worthy of featuring in the Tate Modern, and certainly featured with some interest on Facebook for a while thereafter.
I am passionate about my volunteering at Ashridge. Ironically, since I started, I went back into full time employment and found myself taking leave to volunteer!! I was that committed. I really look forward to my Thursday volunteering and feel a sense of loss if I miss a week. I have now made adjustments to my work / life balance and ensure that Thursday mornings are free.
Volunteering at Ashridge is a passion fulfilled for me and adds quality to my life. I would thoroughly recommend it and would not be without it.
What a nice post by Simon. I guess this story is the same for many of us who volunteer at Ashridge. May long it continue.