4 October 2019
Students from Plumpton College, a land-based college in East Sussex, have volunteered with the National Trust at Sheffield Park for many years. In autumn 2018, Plumpton College Careers Leader Jo Buckley and Enterprise Adviser and National Trust Volunteering Coordinator Glenys Lonsdale saw an opportunity to scale up activity by bringing the students onto the Sheffield Park estate every week. Their aim was to enhance the students’ skills and provide more meaningful encounters with the Sheffield Park team by involving the young people in projects and day-to-day activities across the estate.
Since November, 30 Level 1, 2 and 3 Forestry students, and Level 3 Countryside Management students have joined National Trust staff and volunteers to work on diverse woodland tasks. Some students, using protective waders, have worked in the lakes to remove invasive water weeds. Others are clearing trees from sensitive areas of the site where heavy machinery would damage wildlife habitats, harvesting the timber for use in schools’ arts projects. Before the April bluebell season, students laid wood chip paths for Sheffield Park’s visitors. Level 3 students are recording ancient and notable trees. Already, the students have planted 300 trees, introducing hazel and sessile oaks to make a more diverse habitat for endangered species such as dormice.
The close relationship between Sheffield Park and Plumpton College has been mutually beneficial, staff believe.
It’s a great opportunity for both parties to get something out of it.
Says Jody Orchard, Programme Manager for level 1 & 2 Forestry students at Plumpton College.
Sheffield Park staff are confident that nurturing relationships with the students will create a talent pipeline into the National Trust and other land-based employers. Tom Hill, Trees and Woodland Officer, explained that
Young people are under-represented in horticulture, forestry and countryside management.
The National Trust team expect that the experience will better prepare young people for their future land-based careers. “It’s about getting students work-ready”, said Andy Jesson, Park and Garden Manager. Sean McLaughlin, Instructor in Forestry at Plumpton College, hoped that volunteering at Sheffield Park would prove to students’ future employers that they were serious about their career.
There are other “hidden benefits” for the National Trust in this collaboration. According to Andy Jesson, working with students with different learning styles is helping Sheffield Park staff to develop and to become stronger as a team. Glenys Lonsdale and Andy Jesson explain that drawing in young volunteers to work at Sheffield Park could also help the Trust to promote itself to wider audiences. Andy Jesson suggests,
It’s a chance to influence, so that people take away National Trust principles into other environments.
Plumpton College is also benefiting from working with the National Trust. The Sheffield Park shop has begun to stock Plumpton Estate’s award winning wine produced by the College’s viticulture and oenology students. After strong sales, the College is also supplying National Trust shops across the South East.
Students working in the woodland spoke about their experiences at Sheffield Park. Luke Yorkshire (21), is studying Level 2 Forestry and Arboriculture and appreciated the opportunity to learn about an ancient woodland setting. He praised the expertise of the Sheffield Park team:
I can ask about a plant and they’ll tell me the Latin name, they are at the top of their game.
Bill Hill (17) was inspired by Sheffield Park staff too,
They have got that confidence and it wears off on you. I went in not knowing what I was going to do. I have a future now. I could see myself working here one day.
Tyler Thomas-Gray (16) plans to become a freelance tree surgeon and believes that working with the public at Sheffield Park will help him to communicate well with future clients. Toby Goodhew (17 and studying for a Level 1 Forestry and Arboriculture) hoped that his work would leave an enduring legacy at Sheffield Park:
It’s not just cutting stuff down, it’s taking care of the woodlands and knowing this place is going to be here a long time after we’re here. That’s a good feeling.
Building a team of volunteers from scratch was not without its challenges for Sheffield Park staff, but the team are encouraged to see that young people often feel more at ease working outdoors and perform better than at school. Tom Hill notes that making time to socialise during the sessions helps the students to relax and improves their interpersonal skills:
I’m really proud of how they’ve developed. The ultimate is getting them to lead other volunteers – the confidence they get from that is huge.
The project is running until the end of the 2018-2019 academic year.
Since the original 400-acre College farm was bought back in 1919, Plumpton College has certainly seen a lot of changes.