Archive for the ‘Staffordshire Volunteering’ Category

Mad dogs and SSNTV go out in the midday sun! …well, go out all day actually….

On the hottest day of the year – so far – a small number of SSNTV’ers took the decision not to rest in their gardens all day (if they had them) drinking pims, but to plaster themselves in sun lotion and sweat buckets in the Morville gardens….as workday leader Peter describes:

The select few’s first task was a tour of the Hall estate looking for jobs that might be completed in the shade.  It was also a chance to see the gradual changes Mel and her gardener have been making, increasing the planting and taming some of the unruly patches.

Task finding “first place” went to team 1 who managed not to see the sun all day as they cleared an overgrown area of alder and nettles by the oil tank and opened up the access path. No bonfire for the brash though, that can dry out until may be, next time.

Team 2 the long-married couple, got second place with a little sun, as they moved around the garden trimming access around the yew hedges; pruning and weeding the rose beds, skilfully moving in and out of the shade.

Treasurer and Vice Chair ended up with the booby prize, trimming the hornbeam hedge in the top “white” garden in full sun all day.

Thankfully Melanie provided copious amounts of iced lemon water to keep the troops hydrated; along with homemade cakes for our cake o’clock and thereafter; with a treat of ice creams at the end of the day.  All sought the little shade in the shadow of the Hall’s high walls and rested – watching the farmers beyond the garden, tossing their hay and then cautiously collecting the huge bales generated, whilst navigating across the sloping valley side.  Thanks, Melanie for the hospitality, it was much appreciated.

At the end of a hot day she expressed herself impressed with the amount of work completed, despite the sun!

As she wrote following our visit:…

Dear Peter and the gang,
What an epic day Sunday was! In all that stifling heat and with only a few of you on site, you still managed to work complete wonders without a power tool in sight! I never cease to be amazed by the energy and drive of the SSNTV – a perfect model of team working and always so nice to see you all.  I really am very grateful indeed for all three tasks undertaken, please extend my thanks out to the others.  The garden is basking in this summer weather, but it’s all the better for having been SSNTV’d…

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Workday leader Matthew reports from Sunday’s venue:

The promise of interesting work and a BBQ attracted a good number of volunteers for the workday at Benthall, even though it was Men’s Finals Day at Wimbledon – or maybe it was just the attraction of the BBQ? 

The volunteers split into various groups, with the main task to collect, sift and re-lay pea gravel on one of the paths in the gardens to the side of the Hall. Other groups weeded a long stretch of path laid to brick (recently not a priority task during lockdown); turned over compost heaps; and weeded under laurel hedges. Yes, there was certainly a lot to keep us busy.

Gardener-in-charge Nick had recently purchased a sifting drum over the inter-web and it proved very popular with the volunteers. Shovel-loads of chips were fed into the rotating drum which filtered out dirt and stones of specific sizes, before the cleaned and graded good stuff was recycled back into use. A good section of path was completed, with the in-house volunteers to finish the task later this week.

The other jobs were all but completed too, all with the usual group banter. Who knew that Mandy’s favourite hang-out in her home town of Tenby was the rugby club? We’ve been there too – it’s in the main town, far from any pitches, but has a large function room open to the public. Mandy thought that SSNTV reminded her of the good vibes at the rugby club – nothing to do with the hunky young men obviously!

The day soon came to a close, with Nick’s famous BBQ drawing us in. Having consumed very tasty ‘Hog Roast’ sausages purchased from the local butcher, we said our thank yous and goodbyes and headed off to watch the tennis highlights, or maybe that little football match between England and Italy!

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Returning from holiday, workday leader Helen was straight back to it and reports from last Sunday at Attingham:

10 volunteers from the Group arrived at the Walled Garden for a weeding task. We were shown to a large overgrown potato patch where the plants in question were just visible above the unruly growth – Covid to blame once again – and set to work.

Weeding might be seen as a boring task, but with the usual SSNTV banter and of course cake, a transformation soon occurred. Weeds were uprooted and trolleyed to the compost pile and gradually the potato plants emerged relatively unscathed.

We left feeling very satisfied sure in the knowledge that the kitchens at Attingham would be fully supplied with potatoes this year and some of us even went home with a few of the early spuds in our pockets to supplement our own teas.

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Sunday saw a return to Moseley Old Hall, Wolverhampton for a fencing task – the first time that the Group had visited for some years and everyone was racking their brains to remember the date of the last visit and what that task comprised. This time the request was to help gardener Alex remove some existing fencing and so help to better join up parcels of land acquired by the Trust at different times and so improve access around the estate.

The workday turned out to potentially be a record one – topping the list of how quickly the volunteers could complete the designated task. In this case, by the time of cake o’clock elevenses, people were already asking Alex what would be the next thing to do as the first site was cleared and waste materials were piling up!

It was a chance for Chairman Chris, especially well energised by cooked breakfast on this Sunday, as everyone remarked, to satisfy his destructive urges for once.  Wielding a mattock he made short work of the existing fence posts – after, that was others had chopped away at the undergrowth to find out exactly what was where.

Still the quick work meant little disruption to smaller visitors to Moseley as they could soon head back to the natural play area in the woodland adjoining the worksite.

Perhaps with that in mind Alex then came up with a second similar task on a distant corner of the estate.  Crossing the overflow carpark and a developing meadow patch adjoining the nearby M54, the group set to work on removing a second line of wires and posts and promptly made short work of that too, pulling the better-anchored wire mess from the ground.

Lunch was a chance to enjoy a second helping of cake – thanks Eric!  Talk too was of the previous week’s visit to nearby Benthall Hall and its successful orchid-strewn meadow.  Alex explained that with help from various public funding bodies, along with future landscaping in conjunction with nearby relief road construction he hoped to find resources to encourage more wildflowers in the fields in which we were working.

Soon afterwards fencing job #2 was complete and all that remained was for those not in a hurry to get home to enjoy a thank you ice cream in the sunshine.  As we left, Alex could be seen deep in thought – how quickly could he get a big group back for another task perhaps?

…And what / when was that last workday visit then, I hear you ask? ….Well I for one, am still looking – but I’m sure someone can tell us!

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It was a Sunday for non-football fans and wide-brimmed sunhats as workday leader David B reports:

On one of the hottest days of the year so far, a big group of volunteers travelled to Benthall for the first time in about 18 months, on account of you-know-what (although it didn’t seem that long). We were given a warm welcome by Gardener in Charge, Nick and Heather, who was assisting on her day off from Head Gardener at Arley Arboretum.

The well-used footpaths around the Benthall estate have suffered from heavy footfall and wet weather over the last year, making many of them very rutted and muddy in particular at the various access gates. To improve things for visitors Nick wanted us to add gravel to these heavily used areas, creating a more even and hard wearing surface.

The group split into three, with two subgroups tackling the gravel work. This involved breaking up the top surface with a mattock or spade to prepare the area, which today was quite difficult as the ground was compacted and dry. Barrow loads of gravel were moved by hand from the back of the Hall to the access gates to then apply and compress down. This was a tough task in the hot and humid conditions as some gates were hundreds of yards away – the downhill slope not really helping. Fortunately, the wheelbarrows had air in their tyres! As the temperatures climbed and the gates got further away, Nick took pity on us and transported the gravel in his mini truck.

Another recent Nick task had been cutting a variety of winding paths through the far meadow. This left a lot of loose grass which the third volunteer group raked up to be removed by Nick and his trusty truck.

Leaving areas of grass uncut throughout May and June allows a lot of wild flowers to flourish. The simple buttercup looks spectacular when left to its own devices in a broad field but the most amazing flowers in Benthall’s meadows are the two varieties of wild orchid that grow in great profusion. I’ve never seen so many orchids in one place!

It’s doubtless a good time to visit Benthall once more, as the garden also looks wonderful.  Something we could see from our lunchtime terrace near the Hall – always great to have a proper table and seats!

Thanks to Nick for making us feel so welcome – thanks too, to others for their chocolate cake – and it’s a well done for Nick’s tremendous efforts to make the grounds look so attractive – before we mucked in!

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Chairman Chris was this weekend’s workday leader too:….

Well the good news was that we had seventeen on the workday; the bad news was that the house had been subject to a further internal waterworks flood and so we were not the only visitors on Sunday morning, as a series of surveyors and workmen appeared…..

Our jobs were in the garden. There was weeding at the front of the house in both the beds and the path (…don’t tell anyone but the aubrietia went too); with some people even diving into bushes to pin roses to the wall.

There was weeding down the centre path of the garden and of course the parterre needed weeding and trimming; even the balls at the end of the parterre had a tidy up. There was weeding, soil moving and cutting back at the side of the parterre and up the adjacent short flight of steps. Finally, the mammoth weeding award goes to those tackling the mares tail and other weeds, in the four flower beds where the vines used to be.

In addition there was a select party cutting back the lime avenue at the address, as well as well as those throwing balls for the dog to fetch. ….So keen were some, that extended workday hours were required in order to achieve those personal targets and to enjoy the late arrival of the sunshine.     

Melanie was an excellent hostess, especially considering recent events in the house and looked after us very well, with four cakes including those made by one, her neighbour and two, her mother (fruit, lemon, chocolate and date (- not all in one!) and tea as well as a tablecloth (unheard of);  our own team of Jane and Mags brought tasty chocolate brownies and shortbread. 

Thanks to others for bringing and taking away the tools and ladders, as well as providing the photographs.

Let’s hope the sunshine continues and we can get eighteen out next weekend at Benthall Hall.  Sadly Morville is open under the National Garden Scheme on the same Sunday. For those that cannot make Benthall, the Morville gardens (you get to see four of five)  are open from 2.00pm to 5.00 pm. There may even still be some cake to be had – Covid regulations permitting! 

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For this week at the beginning of June, a message from NT Regional Head, Paul Forecast:

Dear Volunteers,

This week is National Volunteers’ Week and the theme for this year’s event is time to say thanks. Since we started reopening our properties in May 2020, you have contributed over one million hours to support the Trust. To put that time in context, it is the equivalent of our founder Octavia Hill, who was also a volunteer, volunteering continuously from the inception of the National Trust to the present day.

In the Midlands and the East you have collectively contributed a fifth of  all of that time, in roles at properties, at home and online. 2021 will have been difficult for many of you. You will have had periods where it has not been possible for you to safely come in to volunteer. Some of you may still be waiting to return. This will have been frustrating. It will have meant not being able to be with friends and play a part in the roles that bring you enjoyment. When you’ve been able to return there will have been a mixture of feelings of joy, apprehension, and uncertainty as you’ve come back to an organisation that has changed.  

I have always been grateful for the contribution you make, but in the last year your resilience, patience and ongoing commitment has been an inspiration. I have especially enjoyed hearing about how you have altered the way that you volunteer and supported your fellow volunteers. In the Peak District, volunteers supported other volunteers who were feeling isolated, and across many of our places volunteers contributed to local weekly newsletters by writing articles, sharing photos and poems.Volunteers at Attingham have supported the Trust from home by knitting fruit, vegetables and animals for a ‘woollen woods’ Christmas display. In Birmingham, volunteers have returned to carry out research and to train new tour guides. And ‘Tea Room Welcome’ volunteers have ensured that visitors have been able to use the restaurant at Flatford safely.  

So whether you have volunteered with us throughout the last year, for part of the year or are patiently waiting to return, I want to take time to say a massive thank you for your continued support.

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Workday leader Peter reports from a day in the sun:

With summer finally here, the bottles of sun cream were noticeable by their appearance in the car park on Sunday as eleven members were meet by Lizzie, apprentice gardener who has almost completed her two year programme at Shugborough .

With the HS2 rail route apparently planning to run close to the Chinese House on an elevated viaduct behind it, the Trust want to be able to enhance the views around this folly and make it visible from the Mansion. Hence our task was to cut down to waist or knee height the shrubs on the junction of the two paths leading to the feature in the ornamental garden. Shugborough property volunteers were already busy at work cutting down shrubs by one side of the bridge across the canal, along with gardener Derek as we surveyed the day’s task.

Having lost three SSNTV group members en route, who were tasked with starting a bonfire and awaiting the forthcoming deliveries of brash cuttings in a designated spot, the rest of us got to work. Soon the cut pile was greater than the plants left remaining!

It was now eleven o’clock and the workday leader called the first of the two main events of the day. With the Trust guidance changing, “Cake O’Clock” was reinstated for the first time since March 2020. Unfortunately this reporter / workday leader failed to record the momentous occasion, being too preoccupied with eating.

By lunchtime the cutting team had run out of work, despite the scorching sun, as visitors squeezed between the cut piles on all sides of the paths determined to check out the views and visit the tennis court area across the bridge.

Next task: more cake was consumed.

Then it was down to weeding the borders around the Shepherds Monument – but with this workday leader unsure of the difference between a dandelion and a daffodil, this work would be challenging to manage. Keeping the task simple by just instructing the removal of nettles and cleavers (“sticky weed / goosegrass”)  this I could manage.  We paused regularly to load the trailer with the waste from the morning’s work, as it regularly traversed the park all day dodging between the visitors – even Derek felt the need to keep his foot hard down on the pedal – so much was there to move!

By the end of the afternoon both he and Lizzie expressed themselves pleased with the outcome – if not with the size of the brash pile still to collect up, transport and burn!  But I am sure Head Gardener Caroline will be happy when she next walks around the garden – no doubt, as she has already requested extra bank holiday weekend visits! 

Thanks to all for their efforts, especially the cake bakers.

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How many SSNTV Anniversary sweatshirts can you count? Workday leader Matthew describes a day spent at least in part “in the green”…..

Our task was moving snowdrops from the woods by the right of the main entrance to a spot beside an old chestnut tree at Visitor Reception. However, this task was not as easy as it seemed. First of all, we had to actually find the snowdrops which were apparently growing in abundance….. 

Word had obviously gone out that SSNTV were coming and a large quantity of elder had shot up to cover a great deal of the snowdrop bulblets. ….Isn’t it a little late in the year to be lifting snowdrops ‘in the green’… I hear you say. But since we’ve had the coldest April on record and are probably heading for the coldest May too, we just about got away with it. (I saw some daffodils in full bloom on Saturday, 22nd!). The pesky elders were soon dispatched and the snowdrops lifted in ever increasing numbers.

A system of bucket to wheel-barrow; wheel-barrow to strong seed trays; and trays to trailer saw the first of three large batches ready for transportation up to visitor reception. Some volunteers had ‘enjoyed’ an F1-style trip down to the woods earlier in one of the vehicular ‘mules’ courtesy of gardener Duncan, whilst others had a much smoother journey down thanks to Danni. As Danni returned to gardening tasks, Duncan’s boneshaker would have to serve as the vehicle to take us and the precious snowdrops back up the main drive ready for planting for the rest of the day.

The replanting of the snowdrops caused much excitement amongst passing Attingham visitors, with of course, children leading the way with a variety of questions. …One had been lifting bulbs at school recently – ah ha.., a volunteer of the future spotted!!

Thanks to all at Attingham for an enjoyable day. Big thanks came from Duncan too, for a job well done.  Let’s hope that there is a wonderful display under the old chestnut in January 2022!

Oh, yes…and the other question I hear you asking….how many did you move? Answer: thousands – too many to count!

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A full programme of workdays through until September is now published on the Events page of the SSNTV website.

Existing group members will know what to do.

Intrigued by what you read here / on the website? Been sitting indoors too much during lockdown ?

Why not try one of our workdays, there’s something for everyone! No obligation, no cost – just bring yourself ! Details of how to get in touch are on the website / via this link. There might well even be cake 🎂 !!

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