Life as a Volunteer Project Assistant: Steven P

Assisting Groundwork as a Voluntary Project Assistant (VPA) to help deliver a Practical Countryside Skills Level 1 course has proved to be a fantastic experience. Based both in the classroom and in the great outdoors, it gives the best of both worlds. As a VPA I help oversee that the volunteers are trained for their outdoor tasks, assist with the practical work and assist with teaching the written material. Work can be challenging and is in all weathers, but the camaraderie with the team (and the ready supply of tea!) makes each day a great one.

The course has involved taking our 11 strong group of volunteers to nature sites in Oldham and Rochdale, where they learn practical ways of looking after our green spaces. On the course I’ve helped to teach the team practical ways to create wildlife habitats and to regulate access to land. The team have keenly tackled hedge laying, footpath building and wire fence installation work amongst other tasks to help achieve this.

The opportunity to practice my practical conservation skills, gain teaching experience and enjoy the rewards of working with a great team of learners has made choosing to assist with the Practical Countryside Skills teaching project well worth it!

Steven Pratt, VPA April 2013


Week 10 Update :D

Crikey its week 10 already, I have no idea where all the time has gone, I suppose that old expression that times flies when you’re busy/having fun holds true. Well hello to all the readers, this week its Dan again, giving you the weekly fill of our work, lots has been happening as our placements and projects are nearing completion.

Work has been cracking on at Irkside Nature Reserve, Steve led a session on Friday where we completed the pruning and cutback of obstructive vegetation and then used this to build a large habitat pile. Aside this he has been busy in the classroom assisting the group in finalising the project work as it nears to an end.

This week Gleice and I have been busy finalising the evaluation report for the ‘Energy Efficiency & Sustainability’ project in Smallbridge. Rochdale Boroughwide Housing (RBH) received the report last Wednesday and are very pleased with it 😀 The project has been very satisfying and hopefully following this successful pilot, RBH will roll out the initiative on a larger scale. I also undertook some mapping for the National Access Project (NAP) with one of great volunteers; we had a fantastic lunch, which was greatly appreciated after our healthy exercise!

The well deserved benefits of volunteering on the National Access Project.

The well deserved benefits of volunteering on the National Access Project.

Benedict has been busy completing the all-important folder, alongside this he squeezed in a day mapping on the NAP, for which I am very grateful. He has also been busy organising an exciting team building trip for this Friday, Oldham based tasting trip to support of the local economy.

Rhiannon as always has been busy working at Oldham Council. This week she has been engaging residents to set up the herb garden project and has been generating some strong interest. She also did some leafleting at a local fun-day event held in Stoneleigh Park.

Team trip simultaneously building team morale and scoring non-alcoholic beverages and supporting the local economy.

Team trip simultaneously building team morale and scoring non-alcoholic beverages and supporting the local economy.

Jo & Gemma have been busy bee’s inducting new VPA’s and marking our qualification folder work. Wednesday saw them on a photo shoot at the new soon be perma-culture site, from which the next VPA scheme will be based (starting in a few weeks at the start of May). Next week there should be a press release on this so keep a lookout if you’re interested!

Finally we have some sad news regarding our office vegetables…. unfortunately they have outgrown us and gone on to bigger and better things. I heard on the grapevine this was to do with neglect on Benedict’s behalf. They now have a new happy home outside in the big wide world where they can continue growing. We wish them all the best in their future ventures and hope that one day they provide someone lucky people with a tasty and healthy snack!

A friendly canis lupus familiaris of the golden retriver variety that may be found on the waterways.

A friendly canis lupus familiaris of the golden retriver variety that may be found on the waterways.

weeks 8+9

Sorry for the delay on the VPA blog we have been working so hard we haven’t got round to it. You’ll be excited to know that your blogger this week is Ben again (save cheers until the end).
This week Steve was working with the practical countryside skills team, at Irkside, where they have made a great headway into creating a habitat wall. They have also been working on replacing the fence that will protect the completed hedgerow. The team are very close to finishing their portfolios so not much paperwork left for them.
Gleice wrote a report covering the outcome of training on energy efficiency. She also worked on parts of her CVQ portfolio.
Dan (the shoester) has also done part of the report as well as working on the energy efficiency project in Smallbridge. Dan has been catching up with folder work and working on improving Irkside with the countryside skills groups. All this on top of getting older this week, happy birthday Dan!
This week our VPA team leaders Gemma and Jo have been busy marking folders and planning projects for the next VPA team. They have also been setting up a community food growing project with Rochdale Boroughwide Housing called Q Gardens. This project will see the next VPA team delivering workshops and activities to encourage local residents to get growing.
I have had a busy two weeks both office and out of the office.
For the past two Wednesdays I have been with contracts department of groundwork working with the two Mikes. This is has meant getting up in hours I had yet to discoverer in life in order to get in at 8 o’clock (I know it’s an inspiration to all). The first week saw us braving the arctic conditions at Delph primary school moving stone for the renovation of the playground. The rest of that week was a more quiet affair mostly office based writing up notes made from the Boarshaw Clough visit on the Friday before. I also ran a session on pond dipping for the other VPA’s which meant we could find all the beasties that Irkside pond had to offer.

The whole team have been on a team trip to offshoots in Burnley. This trip was useful as it showed us how an area of previously unused land can be transformed into a public friendly area where people can learn to perform sustainable agriculture techniques.
We also had a team meal where everybody brought in a dish to create a buffet. The buffet consisted of wraps (plain and garlic), beetroot, hummus, tomato rice, mustard potato, vegetable chilli, carrot kofta and crisps. I can confirm it was delicious and deny all rumours that it caused any illness!

Finally here’s good news as well as our office vegetables are growing thick and fast although very unlikely we will have a salad soon.

Snow far snow good…

I can’t believe we are already in week 4 of the programme – time has flown by! The team have been very busy over the last week getting to grips with their individual projects and of course working on Boarshaw Clough, the nature site we will be maintaining. This week Natalie was our team leader for the day and our main task was to clear up one of the entrance features which has become particularly overgrown by knotweed and brambles.

Despite the snow covered ground the team of VPAs achieved great results – thanks again for all your hard work it is very much appreciated!

Photos to follow….

Our new volunteers Jeanette and Sam have now started their placements at Oldham Evening Chronicle so we will get them to post soon about what they have been up to.


More grinding

Liam making finishing touch's to the dipping platform

This week at Boarshaw Clough we took down the remaining vandalised interpretation boards and completed the dipping platform.  Finishing way ahead of schedule we finished with a spot of balsam bashing – getting stung in the process. 

Alice using the Angle Grinder

Wading at Boarshaw

Monday as always saw all the VPAs in action at Boarshaw Clough. Christian had a day of river work and pathwork planned. The plan was to fill in some of the eroded pathways with silt which had formed deep channels down their centre. We started digging and filling in the holes. To our amazment we discovered several existing boardwalks submerged under a foot of silt. So we excavated these and continued to fill in the eroded paths with fantastic results at the end. 

Meanwhile some of the braver VPAs tackled the blockage in the river. Matt went in first with one pair of waders to discover there was a large hole in one of the boots. After clearing some of the debris from the stream he poured the water out of the boots an hung his socks in the tree.Christian took over in the other lumberjack style pair of waders to finish off the work. After a succesful day, with the exception of the kelly kettle brews which took ages, the team departed having improved the flow in the stream and making parts of the path far more user friendly.  

Matt and sarah clearing the river.

Christian psyching himself  up for a wade

A new boardwalk uncovered

Matts socks drying in the tree

A little helper…

Jawad was the team leader this week, organising the exciting use of the Strimmer.  Obviously, we were trained to use the strimmer safely prior to being left to our own devices.   We successfully cut back vegetation along the ‘footpath’ adjacent to the river – ready for future weeks where we aim to improve the footpath itself.  Below you can see the before picture…

We were also helped out this week by a very friendly Robin…

Wet Wet WET!

This week the team battled with the wind and torrential rain whilst trying to improve the drainage on site! Many areas of the site have become pretty boggy due to the wet weather and blocked up drainage pipes. Everyone worked hard to dig out wider trenches at the entrance and exit points of the pipes which will hopefully improve the flow of water into the ponds on site. We also continued coppicing some very overgrown dogwoods and started to Bash some Himalayan Balsam that is springing up all over the site.

We are really hoping for some warmer/drier weather next week although all that time spent on the bus waiting for the rain to clear meant more time to drink brews – yeah!

Surveying Boarshaw Clough, Middleton

As part of the Graduate volunteer project we will be adopting Boarshaw Nature site for 12 weeks and carrying out improvements there every Monday!  The site has fallen into disrepair with burned interpretation signs and damaged footpaths but there are also signs of life with nesting swans in the lodge.

First day on our nature site - ID trees and plan the maintenance jobs for the next 12 weeks!