Volunteering changed my life

Volunteering changed my life

What is amazing to see is the incredible difference volunteering outdoors can have for the volunteers' mental health. One such volunteer was happy to share their story with us all….

Introduction by Anna Squires, Health & Skills Manager

The Go with the Flow Project in Coventry was all about getting people out and active in green spaces – from working on allotments, growing vegetables to hedge laying, litter picking and pulling out invasive Himalayan Balsam. The project, and the wonderful volunteers it has engaged, work on sites in Spon End, Stoke Aldermoor and Wood End/Bell Green in Coventry and it is funded by Public Health. What has been amazing to see, in the 8 months the project has been running so far, is the incredible difference it makes for the volunteers mental health.

Nature is good for us!

When did you last get outdoors, feel the breeze on your face, hear the songs of the birds, smell the scent of the flowers and foliage and appreciate the warmth of the sun (hopefully) on your skin?

Let me tell you my story. At the start of the year I had been signed off work for six months with job related stress, anxiety and depression which had gradually set in over the previous two years almost without me realising. I had tried group therapy workshops and medication but still felt angry, despondent, hopeless and helpless. Why me? It all seemed so unfair.

At this point I came across the Go With The Flow project (GWTF). Despite previously being a keen walker, gardener and nature lover I realised I now went entire days without giving the world beyond the four safe walls of my house a second thought. My whole world had shrunk. I couldn't be bothered to socialise with friends or family, I took no interest in hobbies I had previously loved. I felt I had nothing to lose, so on a cold, bright January day I came along to my first session.

I was made to feel welcome from the beginning, the others volunteers were friendly and talkative, and after some preliminary paperwork we were set to go. I remember that day that the thing which surprised me the most was the fact that only five minutes walk from the busy city centre was a haven for wildlife.

We were busy assembling and painting hides for insects and small mammals from old pallets - great fun and environmentally friendly too. The time flew by and soon we were stopping for coffee and biscuits. Working amongst the trees and in the sunshine, listening to the natural sounds and silence I felt calmer and more peaceful than for a long time.

Gradually as the weeks passed by my mood began to lift. I found it easier to leave the house and joined classes in both mindfulness and yoga. I started sowing seeds in my greenhouse once again and began baking cakes for our GWTF sessions. Each week I planned activities to keep me busy rather than moping in the house.

As the weeks went by there were more and more sessions to get involved with. everyone seemed to have their favourite tasks - some liked litter picking and river clearance, some preferred seed sowing, planting and weeding. The bat box building competition raised laughter all around and the walks out along the Sowe valley footpath, Canley ford and Walsgrave were amongst my favourites.

Twice we have been lucky enough to get out to Brandon Marsh nature reserve and it truly is a beautiful and peaceful place. We enjoyed everything from pond dipping to pizza making, den building to bird watching. The BBQ in June was a highlight for me, it was lovely to meet up with other volunteers and hear about the new 30 Days Wild campaign. I felt inspired to start painting again and have filled my 30 Days Wild wallchart with watercolours of my acts of wildness.

As I write this piece looking out into my garden I can see so many changes, from the wildflower border to the vegetable plants to the bird tables and feeders. I am waiting for the delivery man with my new bat box. I know that my health, activity levels and quality of live have improved considerably as a result of the GWTF project. I hope writing my story will encourage people to get up and give it a go just like I did.

Thank you to our amazing volunteer for sharing their story!