Relationships at a distance: being a volunteer coordinator in a pandemic

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By Sarah Ahern

Sarah Ahern helps CPRE London to grow its group in her role as volunteer coordinator. Sarah had time on her hands while furloughed in 2020 and found a way to harness her appreciation of green spaces and the environment by volunteering as part of the CPRE London team. She shares her story with us below.

During this past year of lockdown, I’ve come to appreciate the need for green spaces in the city more than ever. I’m lucky to live in a flat with a shared garden and spend much of my time at home gardening – improving the space for myself, and the other people living in my house, as well as for the wildlife we share it with. I’m very happy with the number of bees, butterflies and birds I seem to be attracting to the garden! Having access to the garden and some green spaces nearby has been invaluable to me in the last year.

I’ve also been taking a few online courses offered, with a focus on environmental issues, sustainability and climate change. The current world situation and my personal experiences during lockdown have reignited my passion for these issues, and I wanted to find a way to get more involved in making a difference.

Joining CPRE London

This desire led me to CPRE London. Volunteering has helped me feel I’m contributing to an organisation that is trying to protect and improve the local green spaces which were so important, not just to me but to everyone, during this trying year.

'Volunteering has helped me feel I’m contributing to an organisation that is trying to protect and improve the local green spaces which were so important to everyone during this trying year.'

Since joining CPRE London in September 2020, in a newly created role as volunteer coordinator, I’ve been working with the team to determine plans for the next year and what volunteer roles to recruit into, as well how best to induct new volunteers into the group. I see welcoming new volunteers, and building ongoing relationships with them, as vital to ensuring that they feel included and valued within the team.

Learning from the experience

The opportunity to learn from colleagues has been a highlight of my time so far – from the team at CPRE London, but also from those in the national team and other local CPRE groups. I’ve got involved in training and networking sessions and the annual conference. I’ve been able to learn from others, discuss ideas and issues, and really feel a part of a team.

Although this role is quite new to me, and I’m a bit out of my comfort zone with some aspects of it, it’s been a really good learning experience. It’s taught me new skills, introduced me to different people and increased my confidence in my own abilities.

'The opportunity to learn from colleagues has been a highlight of my time so far.'

Beginning my volunteering during the pandemic has meant that all my interactions with others have been online or on the phone so far, which can be a bit challenging. I did worry that I wouldn’t feel part of the team with everything being done remotely. However, everyone at CPRE has done a great job at creating an inclusive environment and finding ways to build relationships at a distance. It’ll be wonderful when I can finally meet face to face with people I’ve only ever seen on a screen over the last eight months.

Could you spare some time to volunteer for your local CPRE and stand with the countryside that you love? Learn more about the experience of volunteering for CPRE, the countryside charity, or drop us a line: volunteeringteam@cpre.org.uk.

Appreciating the green spaces in the city

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The legacy of Ethel’s vision and determination lives on thanks to the continued efforts of the Friends of the Peak District, and she remains an inspiration to everyone within CPRE