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Volunteering can provide you with much more than you give

Updated: Apr 25, 2020

In a world providing us with so many ways to connect, it can often feel that we are in fact far from connected to personal human interactions and along with this seems to be continued distance from the sense of community.

As a Londoner, I am pretty stereotypical: I never converse with strangers on the Tube, unless they look lost and I don’t really know my neighbours.

The reason I came up with the idea of Wanderfilled London was due to a different kind of connection which is also greatly lacking, that being one between humans and nature. More than 50% of the world's population live in urban areas, meaning that a relationship with nature is critical, not just for out mental and physical wellbeing, but also for the benefit of nature itself.

Having an association with our environment means we are much more likely to appreciate and respect it, not only on our doorstep, but also further afield.

Now that I have begun to delve into finding outdoor events across London, I have been truly amazed by the variety of things going on. It is so reassuring to realise that there are so many people out there who not only understand the importance of nature, but actually take direct action towards positive outcomes.

With the approach of National Tree Week (23 November – 1 December 2019), I was on the hunt for an event I could attend and I found that Westbury Banks Nature Reserve were in possession of 800 trees plus hundreds of bulbs and in need of volunteers. So, a tube journey away from me, off to the reserve I went.

It was really easy to find, away from the busy high street and a very short walk from Turnpike Lane Underground station.

I already knew a little about Luke and his reserve via Twitter. As a result, I had already seen a few posts about the site, but like many things always seems so different in your minds-eye compared to reality and this was no different, but definitely in a good way.

Luke greeted me warmly upon my arrival and told me a little about the space. He has been a local resident when the area was just a wasteland, one that was notorious as a local fly-tipping area. When he first started work on it, he spent much of his time clearing it from years of waste. This had included the removal of an entire bathroom suit and the chassis of a car, however, I am sure that his list of clearance items was much, much longer!

Given all the work which had to be done re the saplings, he was very relaxed and invited me to take a look around. It was really amazing to think that in a once abandoned and disused space now had so much in terms of trees and nature, with a pond designed and built by Luke and others, bringing fish and amphibians into the space. It was obvious that the rich range of plants would give rise to a much greater diversity of animals.

I had leisurely rocked up at noon, however a group of people from the local McDonalds had been there since 10am and were happily working away at one end of the reserve. There was a huge amount of activity and discussion taking place and I could see by the amount of tools in use, that a lot of being achieved. They informed me that they get involved with several community events at least once a quarter and that this hadn’t been their first visit to the reserve.

I was given a trowel and set to work with the first task being planting some dogwood. Although I have gardened before, there was something really special about planting a tree which you knew could be there for many years to come. It really gave a sense of how different the space would have been from a few years ago and how it will continue to evolve.

A little while after my arrival, a young family arrived from nearby Manor House. This included a young boy who was over for the weekend and had to travel all the way back to Birmingham once the planting was over – now that’s dedication for you!!

I was planting in the same area as them and was so impressed to see their commitment to the tasks, but not only that, their knowledge of plants, animals and the importance of spaces like Westbury Banks was pretty eye opening. The little girl, aged 3, busied herself with a litter picker, determined to pick up any bits of rubbish she saw which shouldn’t be there. She was definitely eager to get the space clean and ready for all the plants!

The soil at the reserve was rich and healthy, having a lot to do with the fact that the area had been left to it's own devices followed by years of hard work by Luke but we cannot forget the immense effort by the earthworms which the children also educated me about.

They also informed about the importance of looking after our environment, having learnt about this not only from school, but also from the news, newspapers and the internet. I was told by one of the boys that when he would get bored at home, he gets out into his garden. I could definitely see this for myself as he was a great gardener, planting the trees and bulbs in a much more organised and speedy manner than myself!

Other families subsequently arrived and were hard at work planting a variety of trees bordering a fence. What was wonderful was that there was a huge sense of community, with everyone not only busying themselves with the tasks, but truly appreciating the space and getting to know one another.

The little girl had partnered up with a slightly older girl, creating a much more efficient maintenance team! There was a great deal of sadness when they had to part at the end of their visit.

It was a truly wonderful experience to witness not only the transformation of a space within a community, but also the bringing together of people within this space. That stereotype of the typical Londoner didn't exist within the reserve, everyone was talking to one another, not only commenting on the wonderful space, but also getting to know one another.

It appeared that as we all stepped into the gates of the Westbury Banks, we were all transformed by the wonder of nature and community, all through the simple act of planting .

With so much work still to be done, the planting will continue throughout Tree Week so volunteers are more than welcome to join in on Sunday 1 December and I can assure you, if your experience was anything like mine, you will gain a lot more than you might have thought!

Have you volunteered and received more than you had expected?

Find events taking place across London during National Tree Week

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