The growing number of ways to engage in volunteer work in Huddersfield

PUBLISHED: 00:00 12 November 2018

One hundred or so River Holme Connections volunteers undertake a daunting range of tasks from litter picking to footpath and right-of-way clearances

One hundred or so River Holme Connections volunteers undertake a daunting range of tasks from litter picking to footpath and right-of-way clearances


Volunteers more than prove their worth in and around Huddersfield, as Martin Pilkington reports

People volunteer for many different reasons, says Sharron Wilkinson, volunteer services manager with Volunteer KirkleesPeople volunteer for many different reasons, says Sharron Wilkinson, volunteer services manager with Volunteer Kirklees

‘There are more than 260 local voluntary groups in this area, between them offering 500 or so different volunteering opportunities,’ says Sharron Wilkinson, volunteer services manager with Volunteer Kirklees, based in New Street, Huddersfield. ‘People have many different motivations for involvement, maybe they’re out of work for a time and want a challenge, structure and routine in their lives, maybe they’ve retired or perhaps they are young people looking to enhance their skills and experience,’ she explains. Her organisation provides a central point, connecting individuals with voluntary groups, which in Huddersfield frequently involves getting out into the country – she cites as examples Experience Community, who among other services provide information and films that make it easier for disabled people to enjoy walks and similar outdoor leisure activities.

One mental health charity, S2R (Support to Recovery) in Huddersfield is involved in creative workshops, now also harnessing the power of the lovely countryside for similar ends. ‘We’ve been going about six years now with The Great Outdoors Project,’ says Jason Kerry, the project’s leader. ‘Our work is largely early intervention and prevention, around mental health and wellbeing, and there’s so much evidence that being outdoors, especially with other people, improves recovery chances, and like the gym with physical fitness helps people stay mentally at the top of their game.’ The project offers diverse activities, from work at their Leeds Road poly-tunnels and tending community gardens, to up-skilling tasks like drystone walling and building the occasional footbridge – and he’s proud that a garden they created won silver gilt at this spring’s Harrogate Flower Show. It’s a broad range to accommodate a wide variety of volunteers: ‘We have gap year students, people just wanting to be outdoors in company, people with disabilities, those in recovery from mental health problems – we’re open to all-comers,’ he says.

The charity S2R ventures into the countryside, but other groups are centred in it. Be More Outdoors is one such, among its many activities running a forest school in Slaithwaite, where it also teaches bushcraft to children, and welcomes school-groups (or goes into schools) to use nature as a route to building self-confidence, or helping those perhaps struggling in the classroom. ‘We’ve been running as a charity for about four years, and as such we need our volunteers,’ says Alan Scully, lead practitioner with the organisation. ‘The family forest school only closes at Christmas. We mainly have pre-school children here in term time, plus some being home-schooled. ‘We recommend families bring children as young as possible – our youngest yet was a baby five days old – to get them used to the outdoors, and for their parents to get used to being with them there.’

Children gain confidence by learning how to stay safe in the woods or by the campfire, they are active, surrounded by changing nature, get to grow plants from seed, and often are helped to learn by Alan and his team telling walking stories, incorporating the natural world – and carefully placed props – into the narratives.

Thanks to support from the Farnley Estate another woodland site, in Honley, to the south of Huddersfield, is home to twin organisations Eden’s Forest and Oak Leaf Outdoor Learning Centre. The former, established in 2013, offers activities not dissimilar to those enjoyed at Be More Outdoors. As Adam Waterman, a director of both explains. ‘Oak Leaf OLC which started last year has different aims. We set up Oak Leaf as a community interest company to run projects with young people and adults with mental wellbeing needs, using bushcraft, making stuff in the woodland setting and sometimes selling it to florists for example, and we’re looking at supporting mental wellbeing through mindfulness and self-esteem and self-confidence building,’ Adam says. They’ve been assisted by, among others, trainee teachers looking to add practical experience to academic, and are now hoping that a retired senior academic who has volunteered with them will shortly be joining their board to focus on the needs and interests of volunteers.

From Huddersfield to Holme another charity, River Holme Connections, has as its focus improving the environment itself, namely that particular river. Since the group was founded in 2015 it has organised more than 60 working parties, with a combined total over 3,200 volunteer hours, to improve what was in places a sadly neglected waterway. Their 100 or so volunteers undertake a daunting range of tasks: ‘We do litter picking, footpath and right-of-way clearances, getting rid of Himalayan balsam and Japanese knotweed… it’s had a huge impact already,’ says Lynva Russell, one of the trustees: ‘Our volunteers have monitored where the invasive species are, and we’ve trained and equipped six volunteers to treat them by stem-injecting herbicides. At the same time we’re growing native species for planting, to replace what’s been lost,’ she says.

Simon Hirst, the group’s river warden, cites some of the other projects they’re beginning. ‘We hope to institute a fish-monitoring programme, to see how fish populations respond to our restoration work - taking plastic out of the river, removing other litter, tackling the green waste dumping. This winter we’re tree planting and putting bird boxes up, trying to increase the large woody material available to invertebrates to encourage diversity, mapping the weirs and pipes and also habitat mapping…’ It may be a relatively small organisation, but it’s clearly dynamic and ambitious - and winning.

Rather larger of course is the National Trust, whose Marsden Moor property to the west of Huddersfield, like all its holdings, enjoys great volunteer support. A loyal band of about 70 undertake what ranger Jack Simmons describes as practical conservation, ranging from maintaining footpaths and fences to moorland restoration, along with leading walks, raising funds, and promoting this preserved landscape.

Sadly a minority finds it impossible to respect the beautiful scenery, as with River Holme Connections so at Marsden Moor much time is spent dealing with litter, and worse still, fly-tipping. But thanks to those volunteers such sites are being protected and enhanced; and thanks to other volunteers more and more people from Huddersfield and beyond are getting into the wide open spaces to enjoy them for their health, education, and well-being.

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