Responsible Travel's Staff Volunteering Days
At Responsible Travel, we ensure our vacations support local communities and have, where possible, a positive effect on the environment. But this ethos doesn’t stop once we get home and unpack our suitcases; they say “charity begins at home” and for Responsible Travel’s staff, volunteering in our own neighbourhood is even more important than doing so while we’re overseas.
We've always organised a day each year for our staff to spend the day away from their desks and volunteering in the local countryside; fortunately, our office is based in Brighton so we have a wonderful array of woodlands, walking trails and downland right on our doorstep. Here are some accounts of previous volunteering days.
We still spend at least one day a year getting stuck in and muddy – so if you know of anywhere we can help out and make a difference to the environment or the local community in the Brighton area on our next volunteering day please send your suggestions to Lyn@responsibletravel.com.
2014 and 2015: Stanmer Park
Our most recent volunteering day saw us return to Stanmer Park on a (thankfully) beautiful spring day in March. Often described as the ‘jewel in the crown’ of Brighton and Hove, it has 5,000 acres of open access land and woods, which we were to help coppice for the day.
We met resident ranger Neil – who came armed with flasks of hot tea and coffee – at the edge of the wood for the day’s instructions. Tasks included coppicing young trees, clearing debris, and dividing harvested wood into bonfire fuel and potential fence-making material. The idea was to then help create a protective fence around an area of land to be re-generated, while also helping to keep mountain-bikers on a designated trail.
Stanmer Park is on the lookout for people happy to lend a hand for the day in the great outdoors, so if the idea of some coppicing, fence post-building or bonfire stoking has got your volunteering passion ignited, you can find out more information here
July 2009: Volunteering day at Raystede Centre for Animal Welfare
In 2009, the staff at Responsible Travel decided to see if the grass really was greener on the other side and spent the whole day outdoors volunteering at the Raystede Centre for Animal Welfare in East Sussex, helping the resident gardeners turf a large lawn.
Based in Ringmer, just outside Lewes, the Raystede Centre is a 40 acre site, surrounded by the beautiful Sussex Downs. It aims to prevent and relieve cruelty to animals and to protect them from unnecessary suffering. Over 1,500 unwanted and abandoned animals arrive at the centre annually. Dogs, cats and other companion animals are found new, caring homes while others remain in Raystede's care for the rest of their days.
One of the centre’s recent initiatives is to provide education packages that allow children the opportunity to creatively explore the curriculum by learning about animals and their natural habitats as well as demonstrating responsible pet ownership. The area we turfed was to become a children’s education centre.
The sun shone on us rewardingly as we worked as a team: shifting wheelbarrows, raking, lining up and cutting and stamping down the rolls of grass. Luckily there was a sprinkler nearby which acted as a welcome cold shower. There was a real sense of tangible achievement as, late afternoon, we stood back and surveyed our work. Who would have thought a smooth lawn could give such a feeling of satisfaction! We all agreed that a bit of physical work had done us good and vowed to spend more time getting our hands dirty.
We were kindly given a tour of the centre – through the donkey and horse fields, past the well kept, open plan rabbit runs and the colourful aviaries, and inside to meet the dogs, cats and rodents. The whole place is beautifully kept and every animal has ample room to play and enjoy each other’s company. There was barely a dry eye as all the creatures, great and small, rose to greet us – brave and willing to make friends despite their unfortunate pasts. The parrots even regaled us with loud exuberant ‘Hellos’ and comical, rhythmic dancing that would put any hip hop professional to shame. Their feathers were stunning shades of red, blue and green; it was incredible to see what colours nature can produce.
We are delighted to have contributed to such a worthy cause and would recommend it as a wonderful place to visit. The Raystede Centre is a charity (registered charity no. 237696) and relies totally on voluntary support.
October 2008: Volunteering day at Chestnut Tree House
In 2008, our volunteering day took us to the outskirts of Angmering to Chestnut Tree House, the only children’s hospice in Sussex.
On a rather soggy Wednesday morning, the Responsible Travel team made their way to Chestnut Tree House for some gardening. With our gardening gloves and waterproof trousers, we were all ready and raring to go, despite the drizzle, because we were about to start work preparing the ground on which a garden will be created by The Body Shop to celebrate the life of the late Anita Roddick.
Anita Roddick was a good friend of Responsible Travel which makes this project all the more close to our hearts. Anita was an inspiration to many of us and one of the original supporters of Responsible Travel. By helping to create a special garden area in the children’s hospice, we’re hoping to honour the great work that Anita did and help provide a serene and relaxing area for the children and their families at the hospice to enjoy.
The first task was ground clearance. The land was very overgrown with scrubs and reeds dominating the area and swamping the stagnant pond. Armed with shears, a couple of strimmers, several rakes and two wheelbarrows we set to work pruning, chopping and clearing our way through the tangle of weeds.
Clearing away some of the reeds and bulrushes from the pond was unpleasant work as the water was stale and smelly and in desperate need of some aerating plants, but we didn’t let this stop us! We followed the cutting with some painting of the fences, picking up the cleared plants and creating a compost heap taller than some of the staff!
After a hard day’s work we were rewarded with a lovely cup of tea and some chocolate cake, very kindly provided for us by the hospice. Even though it was a fairly large patch of land, many hands made light work of it and by working together we got it all cleared within the day and ready for planting. Plus, we all had a great day out of the office and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.
May 2008: A day at Lewes Local Nature Reserve in the rain
As the name suggests, the Lewes Railway Land Local Nature Reserve used to part of the railway sidings which fell into disrepair as the rail network fell out of favour. It was rescued in 1987 by community action supported by the Friends of Lewes and this led to the formation of the Railway Land Wildlife Trust in 1988. In 1995 the land was declared a Local Nature Reserve. This 25 acre site offers a diverse mix of habitats from woodlands to wetlands and is a haven to wildlife and local people alike. The site is accessible to the whole community with footpaths and wheelchair accessible paths winding through the site offering sightings of the myriad of species that make their home here.
The railway land is being carefully managed to provide a variety of habitats. Recent projects have developed areas such as reed beds which have attracted kingfishers. Other wildlife visiting the reserve includes march frogs, woodpeckers, damselflies and 365 species of wild plants. There are also wet woodlands and wet grazing meadows (we really should have been expecting to get wet!)
Under the guidance of Dan the community ranger the Responsible Travel team set about resurfacing footpaths and clearing brambles to maintain access to this reserve. Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t on our side in the morning but we’re a hardy bunch and we didn’t let it slow us down. By lunchtime most of us were soaked to the skin and some of us were suffering from splinters and nettle stings but we were still not dissuaded from our task. As the sun came out (to dry us off) we got our second wind and we pressed on.
At the end of the day we had managed to resurface almost 900 metres of the path and clear away brambles and overhanging vegetation so that the people of Lewes can enjoy this rural retreat over the summer months.
2007: Constructing fencing at Sheepcote Valley
Sheepcote Valley is a green and pleasant haven on the outskirts of Brighton often visited by families, dog walkers and unfortunately motorbikes. Responsible Travel staff, along with Neil the urban ranger, spent the day building small fences across the footpaths to stop motorcyclists from scaring and injuring walkers and dogs, and conserving the environment as a habitat for the local wildlife. We were very lucky with the weather, which - despite forecasts - was dry for most of the day. Some of us even got a little sunburned!
It was all back breaking work but we took it in our stride. From stripping the bark off the wooden posts, to digging 2.5-foot deep holes into the chalk and erecting the heavy posts and rails, we all found it very satisfying. Fuelled by several cups of tea we managed to get the job finished on time, despite a few nettle stings.
Some of our highlights of the day were watching the rabbits running around, seeing a fox creep up to our bags and threaten to steal our lunch and just generally being out in the fresh air and enjoying the view over Brighton and the sea.
All our hard work paid off and there are now many happy walkers and dogs roaming Sheepcote Valley no longer fearing unruly motorbikes.