It came about I was considering a career change from archaeology and I happened to visit a friend who was volunteering down there. I was impressed with the Wardens who were involved with the training of long term volunteers and also the general set up that was geared up towards helping full time volunteers. I also wanted to ‘give something back‘ to the environment, get actively involved and this fitted the bill perfectly for me.
The volunteering involved practical countryside maintenance tasks in all weathers, from strimming parts of the South West Coast path in the summer, to putting up electric fences, involvement with conservation grazing, plant & hydrological surveys, swaling (controlled burns of heathland), driving tractors, sign painting, tree felling and so on! I also had the opportunity to take NVQ level 2 Environmental Conservation, which helped me no end in securing a job.
After 1 year of full time volunteering experience and many application forms later, I got a job with The Trust in Cambridgeshire. I wanted to move back to the North East where I am originally from and the Cragside job came at a good time for me.
My role at Cragside whilst customer orientated during our busy periods, also involves lots of practical work. This includes mending fences, maintaining the 50 odd miles of footpath on the 1000 acre estate, involvement with the Working Holidays we host (which I really enjoy – lots of rhododendron bashing!), assisting the Head Warden with administrative tasks if needed, maintaining our extensive culvert and water drainage system, checking fire alarms and so on!
I am very happy with what I am doing for the moment. I may well look towards a post that has a more archaeological angle to it, but for now I’m content to be an active part of the Cragside team.
My best advice for volunteers is to find out what training you might be able to get. This matters if you really want to do a particular job as a career. Also be aware if you want to do Warden work you will need to gain basic practical qualifications (known often as ‘tickets’) like brush-cutting, chainsaw maintenance and cross cutting, and felling small trees. Other useful tickets are tractor driving, pesticides, first aid and an environmental qualification such as an NVQ, or even a degree. Get as much practical experience as possible – it will really stand you in good stead! Keep a diary of what you have done and when – which is a great memory jogger for job applications. Finally, never be afraid to ask questions about your work.
Sue Turnbull - Warden at Cragside, Yorks & North East Region, The National Trust