Having confidence and knowing what you can do can be really difficult for some people.  For me, finding free courses that support you with life and work skills has been really helpful and the experience gave me the connections that led to volunteering. 

After doing a course with Bournemouth Churches Housing Association, I learnt about Leaf Allotment which is run by them.  It’s two acres of land with raised beds, polytunnels, apple trees, a wildlife patch with lots of bee friendly wildflowers and even a lovely outdoor classroom where they provide training which includes a Level 1 NOCN Certificate in Horticulture (QCF), a six-week accredited course that shows you the basics.  I met Miles the Manager who had so much gardening knowledge and was really nice so I knew it was the right place for me.

I’d not had any experience of gardening or working outside before, so volunteering was a brilliant way of trying it out.  I love volunteering at Leaf and work at my own pace.  I like autumn because it’s not so hot and there’s lots of fruit and vegetables at the allotment.  We grow all sorts such as squash, apples, lettuce and tomatoes including heritage varieties.  I’ve been able to take home some apples and my favourites, lettuce and tomatoes. 

This got me thinking about developing my skills even more so I could move into a paid horticulture role.  Through my Job Coach, I got in touch with Kingfisher Barn in January 2022.  Managed by The Parks Foundation, it’s part of a two mile stretch of riverside footpath, meadows, hedgerows and woodland along the River Stour which anyone can enjoy.   It’s really varied.  I volunteer there one day a week and like helping with maintaining fences, clearing paths, cutting hedges and litter picking.  They’re great at keeping in touch so I know in advance what we’re working on.  They provide the tools but good boots are essential and I make sure I’m dressed for the weather.

I also took part in the CAN Steps Forward project and that really helped me with interviews and it made it easier to think about everything I’ve done.

Volunteering is a great way to enjoy being out in nature, make new friends and learn new skills.  I feel more confident, and it’s made me more proactive.  I’ve especially enjoyed sharing my skills and experience with new volunteers.  Volunteering helps you make the most of your life and gives you a purpose, plus you meet people with similar interests.  I can really recommend it and CAN will look after you.  They are kind, give you lots help and find you a role you really enjoy, so go for it.