The Volunteer Experience

By Lorraine Richen-Stones

After 32 years working in the NHS and with my children full grown I gathered the courage to leave seeking a second career in conservation with a passion to make a difference.

As an existing tree planting volunteer with the Ribble Rivers Trust (RRT) since January 2014, Jack the Trust’s Director generously offered me a sabbatical placement to gain new skills in conservation field work. This enabled me to test whether a career change was the right thing for me, with my biggest worry being whether I could get fit enough, even before I could consider making the commitment to going back to University to retrain. Harvey, Programme Manager kindly organised a range of activities for me over the summer and autumn with the team. Ruth their Seasonal Assistant become my surrogate personal trainer in the process, as she patiently enabled me to build up my fitness levels eventually walking 6 miles on our Ribchester circular walk. Over the course of six months I volunteered for over 165 hours with the Ribble Rivers Trust and the Wild Trout Trust, undertaking a variety of activities during June – December 2016 which helped me gain a breadth of field work experience.

It has been a real privilege to learn and benefit from the Ribble Rivers Trust’s collective knowledge by assisting the Contracts Manager John, Education and Engagement Officer Emily, Capital Work Development Officer Adam, Volunteer Supervisor Richard and Seasonal Assistants by undertaking a variety of practical tasks. My learning experiences have included supporting feasibility studies for the Ribble Life Together Project’s circular walks with Ruth and Emily; Conducting water sampling for herbicides and bacteriological water sampling with John and Ellie; Invasive species control and river-fly monitoring with Adam, Tree planting with Richard and various public engagement events such as the Woodland Fun Day in Accrington. Which to my embarrassment even ended up with me appearing on local TV with young ladies from the National Citizen Service.  This provided experience of partnership working with farmers and land owners, United Utilities, Environment Agency, Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust, National Citizen Service, Pendle Heritage Centre, Love My Beach, Horse and Bamboo Theatre. 

In September 2016 I made the decision to retrain, and next came which degree course to undertake. Gareth, Catchment Science Coordinator kindly made a couple of introductions for me into the academic world to help me explore the best academic options, as the choices were mind boggling. This led to me to attending Habitat Improvement Workshops facilitated by Jon Grey Professor in Practice at Lancaster University and Conservation Officer with the Wild Trout Trust. After conversations with various staff at Ribble Rivers Trust, Lancaster University, friends and family I narrowed this down from 182 possible MSc courses to just two.

Earlier this month I submitted my postgraduate applications, and was fortunate to be accepted as a mature student. I’m really looking forward to starting my MSc in Conservation and Biodiversity this October. Even more luckily my volunteering experience and transferable NHS skills led me into paid work in conservation which will help me gain further technical knowledge before starting my course this autumn, and I am now on another massive learning curve.

Looking back over the last year, none of these opportunities would have been possible without the kindness and support of the committed and passionate staff at Ribble River Trust, who I would like to thank from the bottom of my heart.