Author Ronnie Reed
People and Wildlife Officer Seven Sisters Country Park
Volunteering at Seven Sisters / Miles Davies
It was a bright but chilly morning just before the Easter. There was a clear blue sky but the wind came from the north and had an edge to it. A Great tit hung on the acacia tree just outside our Pump Barn blasting out its song across the empty courtyard. Inside the barn, motes of dust hung on the shafts of sunlight draining in through the glass doors.
Beneath the ancient oak beams were laid out tables brimming over with pots of paint, tissue paper, brushes, glue, glitter, bags of straw, bundles of ivy, and paper plates. There were eggs ready for blowing, newspapers waiting to be turned into tiny flower pots, a bag of clay asking to be modelled into warty toads and smooth frogs, a bucket of mud ready for paw prints and everywhere pictures of spring and the creatures that were just crawling out of hibernation. The scene was set for our Easter family event, our ‘Spring Special’.
Moving quietly between the tables were my volunteer helpers for the day. As they had arrived I had given them each a table of craft activities to look after and they were quietly trying to work out what I was asking them to do. No one sniggered at my lame examples of what we were supposed to be making with the children when they arrived and no one moaned about what they had been asked to do even the brave person with the bucket of brown and yellow streaked ‘claggy ‘ mud.
This would be a drop session, no booking: so no idea of how many people would turn up. If the weather held there would be pond dipping as well as arts and crafts for families to enjoy and I was hoping for around fifty, sixty (if the gods were smiling) people. Ten twenty and we moved a table outside, creaking with Sussex Wildlife Trust leaflets and a small pot of change, ready to tempt people in as they walked passed.
But there was no need to tempt anyone; they came unbidden, in their droves. For the next half an hour there was a continual stream of mums and dads, grand parents, aunts, uncles, friends and all of their children. The change ran out as the barn swelled with noise. In a brief lull I put my head around the door and all I could see were people and in the middle of them all were my volunteers surrounded by noise and laughter, making amazing things with the children, engaging with the adults and working away so hard to create a really special event.
A large group disappeared with one of those volunteers down to the pond and still the barn was full. The volunteers worked through lunch time and into the afternoon until finally they helped blow the last egg and make the last nest, and stuck the last frog life cycle onto a plate.
And then they helped to clear up.
And then some of them came back a week later to do another event in the woods. One that bought families around a camp fire to try their hand at fire lighting, shelter building, mud modelling (mud again) and making things out of natural materials using quite scary tools. The volunteers skilfully wove an atmosphere of calm and peacefulness through our corner of the woodland as families settled down to enjoy making things, looked at wildlife around them or just sat around the fire breathing in the forest on a beautiful spring day.
I never ceased to be amazed at the remarkable people who give up their time and energy to help me out down here at the Seven Sisters. In the winter months, in the cold that only an old Sussex barn can muster up, I had them painting the alcoves, the corridors and the toilets. When schools come to visit they stand on wind driven hillsides to listen to the same information, even the same jokes, time and time again. They help with little kids and big kids. They help out during holiday times and weekends, at evening events, in rain, wind, and yes snow! And they do it for free with a smile on their faces and with an enthusiasm that I cannot match.
So can I say a huge thank-you to everyone who helps? Without you, things could not run and there would be no happy children or grateful parents and satisfied schools and no loos painted blue!
And just for the record the ‘Spring Special’ event attracted 169 people. How’s that for dedication!
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