Tag Archives: volunteer

Two interesting numbers…

By Nick Phillips, group chief executive, Community Impact Bucks

Recently I’ve seen two interesting numbers relating to Buckinghamshire that have really made me think about our county; 43 and 11.  Forty-three is from the national homelessness figures and 11 from the State of Rural Services Survey.

Community Impact Bucks has a mission to improve the lives of the people of Bucks through working with charities and communities. We review the national data about rural living and guide and support community groups on ways to develop sustainable projects for a better life. (Training, events, community transport projects, good neighbours schemes, rural housing etc).

Buckinghamshire ranks as the 3rd most affluent county in the UK outside London. So it was a surprise to see the National Rough Sleeping Data record that on one night chosen at random for a survey, we had 43 individuals sleeping rough on our street in one snapshot count. While writing this I am looking at the rain pelting down and thinking of those people possibly huddling in doorways in our market towns of High Wycombe, Chesham, Aylesbury, Buckingham…

I was recently speaking to the people who run vital charities which are there to give hope and a lifeline to local homeless people.  They told me that this figure of 43 is an under count.  In reality, those few people counted are the very tip of an iceberg where many more are sleeping on sofas at friend’s houses or families who are having to stay with friends or relatives to stay off the street. When I expressed shock at the number of rough sleepers in Bucks and the comparative wealth of the county I was told that it can be harder to get services in counties where the deprivation is so concentrated. There are more people living rough in High Wycombe than Newcastle! The homeless charities then told me that things are getting worse with rough sleeping in Bucks rising by over 30%, caused by a combination of rent prices, fewer landlords accepting people on benefits and changes in benefit payments; all making it harder for people to actually pay the rents.

The second number of interest was the Rural Services Report (Rural England) that identified the average house price in Bucks being 11 times greater than the average salary. The average house price in Beaconsfield is £980,000 according to some surveys from 2015.

Both these numbers reflect real life situations and they feel incongruous and unsustainable.

Buckinghamshire is such a beautiful rural county and in some cases well-served by services but most of us just don’t see the real disparity that the fantastic organisations like Wycombe Homeless Connection and Aylesbury Homeless Action deal with every day.

Weeds and wildernesses

centranthus rubra at chelsea2

When we arrive at our clients’ gardens and ask what their priorities are for our visit, the most common response is “the weeds!” This is often accompanied by a wearied flinging-up of their hands in a gesture of defeat. Certainly, the weather this year has seen weeds thrive, often in circumstances where other plants are struggling to establish. I like to remind clients that the only official, botanical definition of a weed is “a plant growing out of place,” so if they like it, it’s not a problem.
The jury is often out on plants such as Centranthus Rubra, which many class as a weed, but has long been a Chelsea Flower Show stalwart. The majority of our clients, however, want it pulled up.

 

Others, however, are not as contentious, such as bindweed, ground elder and the ephemeral Senecio Vulgaris, found in many of our clients’ plots. In this recent clearance project, there was almost nothing but this pernicious culprit although, after our visit, it is now thankfully gone:

pearce weeds

pearce weeds after

A lot of our clients may not have a weed problem as such (or not one that they’re aware of), but feel that their gardens have got “out of control,” due to a lack of time or attention. Since the majority of our clients are elderly, disabled, or both, it is no surprise that their gardens have been left to their own devices. By the time we’re called in, there’s often a veritable jungle lapping at their doors and windows. Here is just one example of an initial clearance we carried out recently:

Garden clearance before

garden clearance after
Whether it’s fine-tuning and pruning, weeds or wilderness, our volunteers love nothing more than getting stuck in to a garden. Now, if only we could get our volunteer base to grow quite as quickly as those weeds!

If you’re interested in becoming a gardening volunteer, please contact leona@communityimpactbucks.org.uk

Damn Amateurs!

I was chatting to a few people the other day about volunteers and what they do. One of the assembled stated that he did not want to be a volunteer and thought that “damn amateurs” had no place in some sectors. I was restrained in my reproach but, when thinking about it, it is an interesting point. What do damn amateurs do? What is an amateur? There is an inference that an amateur is untrained, unskilled and something of a “dabbler”. As a volunteer in some walks of life, and working with volunteers in my day job, I am surrounded by experts in their field and most of them are rather proud of the amateur status. There is something adventurous about it. Often organisations that use both volunteers and paid staff find the workforce driven by passion not financial gain and this makes for a dedicated, integrated and sometimes challenging workplace.

I have in the past worked with amateurs at all levels who deliver a service based on their existing skills and knowledge at such a level that the organisation that they volunteer for could never afford their “professional” rate. Yet they work doggedly and with as much drive and enthusiasm as any bonus-driven professional.

Last summer my mother was taken ill and I had to call for an ambulance. Within moments a medic arrived and, having 20 years experience in A&E in this country and others, was able to support, check, and reassure my mother. He was able and experienced at life saving. Having left the health service to pursue a new career he felt his skills were still of value. I can vouch that they were. He was a “damn amateur” but one of many that save lives day in day out when the professionals are not able to.

So I feel privileged to deal with “damn amateurs” because the way the future is looking we all may need to rely on them a little more.