Several times a year, members of Bristol Drugs Project join volunteer work parties at Westonbirt to carry out essential maintenance tasks in the arboretum.
The volunteering partnership started in April 2009, when Westonbirt invited a group of Bristol Drugs Project members to take part in a day of voluntary work.
The new volunteers helped out with coppicing, working alongside Westonbirt’s education and interpretation team and a work party of regular volunteers.
“We’re always looking for ways to introduce the benefits of engaging with woodlands to people who might not usually think about visiting an arboretum,” explains Ben Oliver, Learning and Participation Manager at Westonbirt. “Practical voluntary work can be a really positive experience for people recovering from drug or alcohol problems – it’s a chance to learn new skills, reintegrate into the community and gain a sense of achievement.”
Building skills and confidence
Feedback from the coppicing day showed that the Bristol Drugs Project volunteers got a lot out of their experience. One participant commented: “The day out at Westonbirt Arboretum enabled us to see that a life beyond drug use is possible and that we are capable of achieving it. It gave us a memory of a real experience where we had an amazing day without the aid of drugs and alcohol, working in a stunningly beautiful place, forging new relationships with people from a variety of backgrounds.”
Bristol Drugs Project members now join work parties at Westonbirt four times a year, helping out with tasks ranging from laying hedges to building and repairing dry-stone walls. Westonbirt’s regular volunteers act as informal mentors to the Bristol Drugs Project volunteers, helping them to develop new skills and knowledge, as well as confidence.