WCVA Volunteer Emma Morgan virtually chatted with Louise Tambini about environmental volunteering and well-being. Read the interview in full for information on how volunteering can be beneficial to your wellbeing and a special message of thanks to the volunteers at Keep Wales Tidy.
Tell us a bit about yourself and Keep Wales Tidy
I’m Deputy Chief Executive, so I have my fingers in many pies. Largely I’m responsible for overseeing operations – so all the work which is with the community.
Keep Wales Tidy’s projects range from an organisational level like our highly successful eco schools’ program, to all our community engagement work where we help volunteers on the ground to improve where they live.
How can environmental volunteering be beneficial for well-being?
The feedback we get from our volunteers is very varied. Everyone volunteers for different reasons and we have lots of stories from volunteers who tell us they are much healthier, fitter, and issues such as bad backs have improved from dragging trolleys out of rivers!
But I think more and more importantly, the sense of community that volunteering can bring, as well as just being out in nature, has the potential to improve mental well-being. There are countless studies, which talk about being out in nature and how they can help both physical and mental health. In fact, I read very recently that there’s a huge amount of evidence that shows that just 120 minutes exposure to nature a week is a key factor in maintaining positive mental health. So there really is a huge array of benefits, but everyone is clear that being outside amongst nature is beneficial and it definitely helps with mindfulness in the longer term.
How does this positive engagement with nature benefit Wales and the environment too?
The main focus of environmental volunteering is to improve the environment. For example, litter picking gets rid of waste which can impede habitats and damage wildlife, so that is positive for the environment. The other side of our work is more to do with conservation, such as planting native species and trees. Our project with nature gardens helps get rid of invasive species and instead brings in native ones that improve biodiversity in the area.
Our workers usually have an environmental focus to begin with, but the spinoffs from that become much broader both for the individual and the wider community that is affected by volunteering projects. Giving communities an affinity with their own green spaces’ in turn aids the environment.
Are there any specific projects you recall having a really positive impact on people or environment?
Oh, where do I start? I have been at Keep Wales Tidy for over 20 years, so I’ve seen a lot of projects. There are hundreds of examples, but for me what I see you know the biggest benefit is when you see it as a project transform someone’s life.
People that don’t go out, or are new to an area and don’t know anybody. They join a local volunteering group. Fast-forward six months. They’ve got a network of new friends, neighbours, and self-isolation is reduced and at the top of that they’re doing loads of fabulous environmental activities to benefit the local environment.
A current project, which is fantastic, called Growing Together, is bringing local primary schools together with over 55 care accommodations. These projects are creating full growing spaces in sort of a care facility and bring it locally. Intergenerational work is absolutely wonderful as the more elderly residents interact with primary school children whose enthusiasm is so infectious that it rubs off on the older generation. The older people become so excited to go out and do these sessions, which helps the children to experience their wisdom.
Can you describe volunteering with Keep Wales Tidy in just three words?
I would say it’s rewarding, it’s inclusive and it’s fun. If it’s not fun then people won’t do it, you’ve got to make it fun and it really is fun.
If you look at most of the photographs you see on our website and in our social media feeds is people generally smiling and they could be smiling when they absolutely drenched in rain. You know, come rain or shine, you know it’s going to be fun and it’s got to be rewarded.
It’s Volunteers’ Week and this year’s theme is saying thank you to volunteers. Is there anything that you would like to say to your volunteers?
Volunteers’ are a wonderful, wonderful batch of humans…volunteers during lockdown have brought community spirit to the fore, all sorts of wonderful groups have appeared and I’m hoping…that sense of community does stay.
We want to thank everybody who volunteers with Keep Wales Tidy. The volunteers are out come rain or shine, they help to transform their local community socially, environmentally and economically by spending their money locally. I would like to give them my huge gratitude and thank them for their work and to encourage them to continue.
What does the future of environmental volunteering look like at Keep Wales Tidy?
Now we’re excited, as we’ve just been awarded a grant from Welsh Government to create new local places for nature. It is aimed at places that don’t have access to a lot of nature, more urban, nature deprived areas, like schoolyards where they’ve got no greenery.
We are creating 800 nature gardens. There’s a real mixture, butterfly gardens, fruit gardens, Wildlife Gardens, and before lockdown, we launched the program so the end of the financial year and we had over 200 applications were agreed at the first panel, which is massive. It just shows you how much appetite there is to create local nature spaces.
This is a great opportunity for community groups and organisations to get involved as we are still currently accepting applications.
Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to start the project yet because of Covid-19, but we’re really excited for when we can start because if the pandemic has shown us anything, it’s the importance of having access to nature, particularly for people who don’t have it in their own homes. People that live in flats, people who live in urban, built up areas. Having that access to nature, even if it’s only a small area, will be a vital component in helping people get over this pandemic we are currently in.
I’m hoping, that when the government start to lift restrictions a little bit and we can start working again. Just watch this space with that regard.
There are many opportunities to support local places for nature and I would encourage even more people to get involved. Individuals can contact their local community officer for more information.
Thank you for your time Louise!
The Volunteering Wales website hosts a range of environmental volunteering opportunities across Wales, visit www.volunteering-wales.net for more information
To learn more about Emma Morgan and her passion for the environment, read Emma’s blog, Nurture Nature