Our Volunteer Coordinator Dave Richardson gives us an update about our recent Volunteer Gathering.
Our Volunteer Gathering took place recently at Bellingham Town Hall. We meet with groups of volunteers involved in different areas of our work throughout the year, but the Gathering is our annual opportunity for all volunteers to come together, network, and have a good lunch!
Mirroring our desire for staff and volunteers to work as part of a single integrated team, the Gathering includes contributions from both staff and volunteers. We use the Gathering to thank our volunteers; to share key messages about our work and our priorities; to hear from volunteers involved in different aspects of our work on how things are going and where we are working together to develop our shared work.
The location of the Gathering changes each year to take in different areas of the National Park. We use local venues and caterers to support local communities and businesses. This year we welcomed nearly sixty volunteers to Bellingham Town Hall. It was a hassle free experience booking and using the Town Hall and the lunch provided by the nearby Rocky Road Cafe was delicious!
We had a lot to cover in a few short hours with the agenda covering bringing volunteers up to speed on the Sill before moving on to current and planned developments in volunteering, and finishing with a recognition section before lunch.
On the day volunteers were welcomed by the Chairman of the Authority, Glen Sanderson, before hearing about our vision and ambitions for The Sill National Landscape Discovery Centre from the Chief Executive, Tony Gates. Tony shared how the Sill building will provide world class and year-round visitor facilities have ensured an ongoing youth hostel presence and will make a wider economic contribution to the area. Tony shared how the activity programme will engage a larger and broader audience with the value of the National Park and the wider landscape.
We also shared the implications for volunteering and identified how the Centre itself and the activity programmes provide significant opportunities to increase and broaden the involvement of volunteers in our work. We finished this section of the agenda by answering questions on the Sill and notifying volunteers that as an important stakeholder group they will be invited to a pre-opening familiarisation visit to the Sill.
After a short break, we moved onto developments within volunteering, first hearing from volunteer John Chrisp about developments within the ‘Guided Walks’ programme. This included volunteer led walks being fully integrated within the National Park/Sill event guide; working with staff to promote the programme through web and social media; the centralisation and sharing of walk routes and information; and developing the product such as introducing navigation courses, dog friendly walks, and trialling a geo-caching walk.
Volunteer Bob Doughty updated the group on developments within ‘Heritage at Risk’ including moving to an ‘adopt a monument’ approach; the digitising and online sharing of survey reports, and; introducing drone surveys. Bob shared how our Heritage at Risk model which involves significant volunteer-led coordination and an integrated steering group including volunteers, staff, and Historic England is considered good practice with other organisations looking for us to help them replicate our model.
I then updated the Gathering on changes in the staffing structure for the management of the Hadrian’s Wall Path National Trail. We have started a review of volunteering within this work area and we extended an invite to the strong contingent of HWP volunteers present to a review meeting in mid-June to work with us to develop a model for this group.
Next up it was Ranger Jane Riddell who shared feedback and thanked volunteers for their work with the Ranger team. Jane also updated volunteers involved in ‘patrols’ with changes to signing on/off procedures and we extended an offer to this group to introduce ‘end of season’ meetings to discuss and develop this area of work mirroring our approach with other volunteer work areas.
We finished the development section by hearing from volunteer Anna Walker, a postgraduate student at Durham University volunteering with us in her spare time working with the Sill education team on developing the education programme. Anna is also working with our Geographic Information Systems and Digital Officers to digitise walking routes within the ViewRanger mobile app.
I wrapped up the section by thanking volunteers for their contribution to our work and trusting that everyone present could see how we value and have been developing our existing volunteering activities whilst also starting the process of developing new and broader volunteering roles.
Our Chief Executive Tony Gates presented each retiring volunteer with a card and small gift to thank them for their efforts. The group represents a wide range of volunteering interests covering visitor welcome, ecological surveying, practical conservation projects, Hadrian’s Wall Path monitoring, and educational visits. Collectively they have contributed an incredible 250 years of volunteering to the National Park.
So a big thank you to these seven for all their work over the years, to the staff and volunteers that helped make the Gathering a success, and to all our volunteers for all their work. We couldn’t do what we do without you.
For more information about volunteering opportunities in the National Park and at The Sill: National Landscape Discovery Centre please click here – http://www.northumberlandnationalpark.org.uk/about/jobs-training/volunteer-opportunities/