Volunteer Ranger, South Downs National Park Authority
My name is Sam Rush, I’m 31 and I’m a Volunteer Ranger with the South Downs National Park Authority. I started volunteering generally around November last year. Initially this was for entirely selfish reasons – I wanted to go to a film festival and it gave me the opportunity to see lots of films for free! But then from there I realised there were lots of other cultural things I could get involved in. I hadn’t had a good year and was recovering from a traumatic event, so putting time into volunteering was really about being able to concentrate on the things that made me feel good about myself and also to help me regain some of the confidence I’d lost along the way. By the time Volunteer Centre East Sussex put me in touch with the South Downs National Park Authority and I had my first taster session in April 2016, I already suspected that my day job wasn’t helping me to recover. I subsequently took voluntary redundancy in May.
I’ve been volunteering regularly as a Volunteer Ranger since July and I haven’t looked back. I try and go out once a week and I really miss it if I can’t! I’d do it every day if I could but unfortunately being able to earn money is a barrier. I took a part-time job with flexible hours which covers the essentials and even though I don’t have anything like the income I used to, I’m so much happier being able to do things that I find so fulfilling. I’m no longer working to be able to do the things that make me happy – I’m just doing them, whenever I want to. I’d like to seek paid work in this area eventually, but it’s very competitive and you need to gain a lot of experience. Volunteering regularly allows me to do this and gives me something really worthwhile to look forward to each week.
The work itself is really varied and changes depending on the season. When I started it was summer, so the tasks were things like fencing and clearing footpaths. Now we’re getting into autumn and winter, we can do more scrub clearance to prepare habitats for wildlife like nesting birds and butterflies to return in spring. We also get to learn really interesting traditional skills like coppicing, flint walling and scything! It’s immensely satisfying, you have a task for the day and by the end of it you’ve achieved something tangible. We work really hard but it’s a lovely group of people that come along, often people who’ve been coming for many years, so when we sit down for a well-earned tea break it’s a great atmosphere and we all get on well.
I couldn’t recommend volunteering to people enough. Even if it isn’t the start of a career change, it’s so important to recognise what you do in life that makes you feel truly satisfied, whether it’s helping others or supporting the arts or being outdoors. I feel so lucky now to be in a position that I have these things to look forward to each week and when I look back on how low I was a year ago I feel like a completely different person. I can’t put a value on that.