“I had a Zoology Degree, which is the study of the natural world, that was very interesting and allowed me to know a little bit of everything but unfortunately did not really set me up for a career in conservation. So volunteering has made gaining a career in conservation possible”. Claire Dinsdale
What is your job about?
My job is Project Officer for the Conservation Volunteer. I have been doing it for nearly six years now. My job is to organize a Volunteer Work Program every month. Every month I organize fourteen tasks and I also lead them as well. So what I do is organizing all the materials and then leading the task days. In our charity we do a variety of things, for example in Charlton we took a bit of parking lots and we transformed it into multi sensory play area for the kids.
We have just put in 600 meters of footpath at Stoke Park. There is a big estate down there that recently has been taken over by Bristol City Council. It has been a bit of a no man land for ten years and there is a lot of work there. So since January, we have just finished last week, we have been putting in pathways. So what we did in Stoke Park was improving the woodlands. One of the woodlands is completely unaccessible in the winter because it is so muddy. So the work we have done is opening up the woodland and improving the access for people. The project was a great success because we had a lot of positive feedback from residents, staff and people who use the wood.
What issues do you address?
Health and Safety is very important and making sure that all my risk assessments are in place, data protection, all these sort of things that we have to meet to make sure that all procedures are followed. We all have to follow procedures. The charity is nationwide so is obviously around the country so everyone who is on the ground like me has to make sure that certain procedures are followed. For example I have key volunteers who, if I am not around, will lead the day for me and will be in charge and this means that I have to make sure that DBS checks and similar things are put in place.
What moved you to take action?
I just really wanted a job in conservation, working with people and being outdoors. So I started off after University and I got a job working in laboratory, working for Kings Mill testing flowers and things like that, and after three years I just realized it was not what I wanted to do. So then I volunteered for the National Trust for a year in Clifton Estate in Meaden Head learning about estate management, water management and when I came back I was trying to find anything I could carry that on and so that is how I ended up volunteering with BTCV as it was at the time.
What were the obstacles that you had to overcome?
I have had issues, I have troubles with funding, getting enough money to keep the project going. Dealing with and relying on volunteers could be a major obstacle because it is very unpredictable. We have a pick up point in town so anyone can come if they want or not come. It is a very good way of managing volunteers because no one feel they have to commit two or three days a week or anything, it is pretty fluid. But then some days I may not have anyone out and this could be a problem. For example in January I had a patch where I was not really getting more than two people out and it has been very hard because I still had to keep the project going. So how did I manage it? I just put out more advertising, more word of mouth, I contacted the Universities and I managed to get out sixteen students on one day. So they came out doing a sort of Student Team Building Day. So that was really good. I managed to get something in local paper just to find more support and then now my numbers are back up again and this is really good!
What helped you keep going in hard times? Was there a time when you thought you would give up? (What did you think or say to inspire yourself to keep going?)
I did want to give up recently in Stoke Park. The job in Stoke Park started in January and it was very difficult to manage because the area was completely flooded and there were only three of us working for the first few weeks. We hired little mini dumpers and motorized wheelbarrows which helped us in the creation of paths. Although they were just motorized wheelbarrows, I had two of them stolen and I had to face complains from residents about parking our vehicles outside their houses. It was just crazy things happening that made me think I wanted to give up but I am a quite determined and stubborn person so I carried on and the numbers picked up, the weather got better and we have been able to construct half a kilometer of pathway.
What first prompted you to become interested in environmental issues and when was that?
I have always been interested ever since I was very little. I used to write to Greenpeace and RSPCA and asked for information about their projects. I used to run a car washing scheme every summer, go and wash people’s cars and earn money for the RSPCA. That was more animal cruelty than environment but still very important for a ten years old kid. I have always kind of volunteered when I could from sixteen onwards. I have been involved in National Trust Holidays and things like that and I took part to the Assistance Scouts Leaders Project which consisted in organizing camps and walks for young scouts.
After University I understood I really wanted to start a career in conservation. I had a Zoology Degree, which is the study of the natural world, that was very interesting and allowed me to know a little bit of everything but unfortunately did not really set me up for a career in conservation. So volunteering has made gaining a career in conservation possible.
On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being very happy) where would you rate how you feel about your life?
Pretty high, between 9 and 10. Everything is really good for me right now. Bristol is a really inspiring place to be and it just helps me being the person I want to be, which is great. I would like to be able to move to the countryside a little bit more because at the moment I do not live in a very nice area, it is a nice house, just not the best place. However, I am happy, I could not ask for more.