Skelton’s personality and the effort put in to make it a natural retreat by those that work there was evident upon arrival – this is probably made all the more prominent by the busy industrial site that surrounds it.
When I first arrived I didn’t know what to expect as it was all completely new to me but the staff were very welcoming and friendly so I was made to feel part of the team really quickly. For the first month or so I spent most of my time shadowing the existing volunteers and learning the various education days that are available; these days varied from Minibeasts to Electricity. By the end of my time at Skelton I had taught most of these. Also on Fridays there was ‘Green Team’ where volunteers would come to the site and take part in conservation activities.
As I progressed through my time I became more confident and was able to start teaching the education days myself, along with some of the conservation activities for Green Team. The first day I taught was Minibeasts and this was a day that was pivotal for most of the education days taught, so was a great way to start. I can’t stress enough how rewarding it is to pass on knowledge of the natural environment to the next generation and to see the children engaged and enjoying themselves outside. The whole experience was a great personal achievement for me.
To help with my progression, lots of different training opportunities were available, including Tool training, First Aid and Safeguarding. These all helped me with the day to day activities that I was doing and they were something I could apply to everyday life.
As the school term ended and the summer holidays started there was the opportunity for us to take on some of our own activities around the site. As I have a passion for wildlife I chose to undertake wildlife surveys. I got the opportunity to survey the trees, pond life and birdlife that are found on the site. Alongside this, groups that wouldn’t normally come to the site during term time had the opportunity to come as the site was available. This gave me the chance to work with MENCAP groups and young carer groups which was very satisfying.
One of the highlights of the summer holidays was the bushcraft camp. This was a 2 day trip to woodland with children coming to stay overnight. They had to build their own shelters and cook their own food. We also played lots of wide games, did craft work and performed campfire songs and skits around the campfire.
During the autumn term there were more indoor education days covering topics such as electricity and rocks & soils. I also had the opportunity to co-lead Green Team activities, which included bat and bird box building which was very enjoyable and gave a great sense of achievement when I saw all of the volunteers finished pieces.
In October there were 2 memorable events, the first of these being the Skelton Grange Open Day. This is the biggest event of the year on the Skelton calendar and attracted almost 500 people. My role on the open day was pitta pizza maker, which was a first for me, but an enjoyable culinary experience. I also got the opportunity to go round the site and see all of the wonderful activities that were on offer. The other activity was the zombie apocalypse Halloween event, that happened for 3 consecutive evenings. I got to be one of the zombies and attack unsuspecting people as they wandered around the site searching for clues.
In December I was involved in the construction of a rustic fence along with other volunteers. There was a lovely winter festival to finish the year which involved lots of Christmas crafts. Afterwards, the staff and volunteers had a Christmas feast, followed by a secret Santa and party games. It was a great end to my time there and topped off an already brilliant year.
As volunteers come and go Skelton Grange is always on the lookout for new volunteers to become a part of this unique project. The next recruitment of Volunteer Officers is currently taking place with the new volunteers set to start early next month. Also at Skelton they do a variety of activities that the public can participate in including Bushcraft days for kids and adults, Easter trails, Open Days, summer play schemes, Into the Wilderness camping events, Green Team volunteering days, Willow weaving, Wild Food Walks, wire bird sculpture, Lino printing, and professional development training days for teachers and childminders.