It’s not often I find time to actually sit and drink a coffee whilst flicking through the local magazine. It is even more rare for me to rip out an article and plonk it on my husband’s chair but I am truly glad that I did both of those things about a year ago now.
The article outlined volunteer opportunities with A Forgotten Landscape (AFL). So many, so varied, so interesting and so timely.
We had just moved, after 26 years, from Thornbury all the way to Kington. I had unexpectedly given up my career, then lost both parents. The kids were married and both moved away, grandchildren on the way and, although we had certainly not moved far, it was all new. A different house, bigger garden, new neighbours and friends and a complete change of lifestyle.
The thing that struck us both in our new environment was that we were now surrounded by a landscape that we needed to get to know. It was our new neighbour. We’d driven, cycled and walked through it often enough. We’d talked about it, photographed it and drawn it but we were now living with it and we wanted to get to know the culture and the heritage as well as the people. Here was a local project that gave us that chance. We met for coffee with Katie, the project officer, on the following day. There are 60 or so projects running over 3.5 years in the local area from Berkeley to Avonmouth and from the Severn to edge of Thornbury…roughly! All funded by The Heritage Lottery Fund. Opportunities with AFL are almost limitless. I’ve volunteered lots before but always felt “obliged”, “burdened” , “put upon”, “bogged down by admin” or dreaded The Meetings!
Volunteering with AFL is different. The workers are enthusiastic, welcoming and organised. Volunteer agreements are clear and time-bounded – important for busy people. Training is thorough and well-delivered by experts. Each little thing you do is appreciated and valued. They welcome a little or a lot of time and appreciate that we all do other things. Paperwork is negligible. Lots of the projects are outside in beautiful landscapes with lively, fun, like-minded volunteers.
So, I launched into the Orchard Project. The team meet at The Littleton Lifesavers’ Cider Shed. We now have experience of surveying but also had great fun helping with apple days and Wassailing. I’ve also joined the Tales of The Vale project and learnt how to record local people’s life histories. What a real privilege to listen to someone reminiscing about their childhood or working life. We’ve had some tears of course; memories are not always happy but the work is so fragile and so important and the team regularly meets up in a pub for lunch or supper to share and laugh together. Lots of ideas for how we take this project forward into a book, displays, plays and local walks.
I’ve made willow dolphins, experienced art walks, learnt about various new crafts and served tea and cake to Jamaican Elders in Oldbury through the AFL Arts Project. Each project is very different but all come with new experiences, new skills, new learning and new friends. Do as much or as little as you like. I guarantee you’ll have fun and you’ll certainly get to know about local culture, wildlife, landscape and heritage…..and it’s FREE!