This week saw the second annual ceremony for the National Trust’s Octavia Hill Awards.
The event welcomed both the runners-up and winners of its three prestigious award categories; Natural Hero, Green Space Guardian and Love Places.
Fergus Collins, Editor of Countryfile Magazine was on hand to host the awards, while the National Trust’s Director General, Helen Ghosh, reflected on the work of our volunteers. Read what she had to say:
“While the whole country bathed in the reflected glory of the “Games makers” – the volunteers who were such a successful feature of last year’s Olympic and Paralympic Games – it was a bit galling for some people to read all that coverage hailing the birth of a volunteer movement, or at least a renaissance, when they’d just quietly and successfully been getting on with volunteering for decades, if not centuries.
“This year, the National Trust has reached a landmark; there are 70,000 individuals giving their time and skills to us as volunteers in some capacity or another. This is in fact the same number of Games Makers, but not a one-off! The largest number of volunteers can be found in the South Lakes in Cumbria, where there are currently 967 people volunteering.
“I never fail to be amazed at the range of roles that volunteers fill. There are not just the familiar room stewards or gardeners, fence builders and scrub clearers, but our volunteers work as painters and decorators, business analysts, civil engineers, project managers, archivists – if there is something the NT needs doing, you can almost always find a volunteer to do it.
“Ron Price at Buckland Abbey in Devon is our oldest serving volunteer at an incredible 95 years old. However, flower specialist, Shirley Watson, is our longest serving volunteer with 57 years working in HatfieldForest.
“But I’m delighted to say that we also have some volunteers at the other end of the age spectrum; Paul 4, Daisy 3 and Thomas 17 months are all part of the Family Advisory Board at Tyntesfield.
“We’ll be looking to increase that diversity still further as people’s working lives extend and fewer people have spare time in their retirement. We need to adapt our model to fit in with the lives people lead – people giving us their time on a basis that suits them, whether flexing around school hours or fitting in with their working life.
“Our founders would be delighted – not only Octavia Hill, but also Canon Rawnsley and Sir Robert Hunter, whose centenary of his death we mark this year. They were volunteers and all their early achievements were built on growing groups of volunteers in cities, towns and villages across the country.
“Then, as in today’s National Trust, they simply couldn’t have achieved what they wanted to do without that help. Then, as now, it was a way of growing support for the cause and getting more people engaged both practically and emotionally by what they were trying to do.
“So volunteering for the Trust has a purpose – at least two purposes, and growing our number of volunteers is not an end in itself, but a means to an end – ensuring that we can “look after special places for ever, for everyone”.
“And it isn’t about amateurism. We need to be professional in how we manage and resource our volunteers, and they need to bring the skills we need to do our job, whatever the role is that they are carrying out. They are our “shop window”; the first person visitors meet at the door, or bump into in the garden or on the footpath.
“Volunteers and voluntary groups have played a key role – for good – in shaping the Britain we have today. The winners of today’s awards reflect the diversity of that contribution, large and small organisations and individuals, and we should continue to rejoice in that. “