Did you know that the International Day of Happiness fell on 20th March this year?
Discovering this factoid got me questioning, just what is the best route to positive physical and mental wellbeing?
According to a new study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, being outdoors dramatically lowers stress levels and boosts mental health. In fact, although it may be the last thing you actually feel like doing when you’re feeling down, studies show exercise boosts productivity, eases insomnia and improves general health. Furthermore, being a volunteer can make us feel satisfied with life, it reduces the risk of depression and therefore can reduce the risk of premature death. All of which suggests that outdoor, active volunteering is hugely beneficial for the individual. For this reason, I made contact with a couple of organisations involved in conservation and the environment to get a taste of the types of opportunities available, and to take a look at what the positive benefits of this type of volunteering are for those who participate.
John is a volunteer with the Tyne Rivers Trust, an environmental charity that works with people and communities to protect and enhance the River Tyne and its tributaries. As a volunteer he undertakes his work on average every 10 days, and has taken part in many activities both on the river bank and within the catchment area of the charity. John said his role has involved, tree planting and removal of tree guards and stakes, pruning willow, scrub clearance burning, and litter picking. He has cleared ponds, removed invasive plant species, cleared paths and helped create coir dams (whatever they are!). John has constructed a grass snake hibernaculum, helped repair a weir and dismantled and removed a livestock drinking water system.
Unlike some charities and organisations, which require volunteers to commit to a set number of days or times, the Tyne Rivers Trust sends an email to volunteers each month listing the volunteer day dates, times, locations and tasks. The volunteers are then free to choose which days they wish to attend. John likes the flexibility of this process because, like many other people, he is busy with other activities and is not always free to attend pre-specified days.
John revealed that as his father was a farmer he grew up with plenty of experience of outdoor work. In fact, he went on to study Agriculture and Economics at college. Subsequently, John spent his career working as a Business Consultant in the farming, horticultural, primary food processing and renewable energy sectors, both within the UK and overseas.
Following his retirement however, and following a move from Hampshire to Northumberland, to live closer to his son and family, he decided to do some outdoor voluntary work to partly replace his previous working life.
John said he found out about the role with Tyne Rivers Trust when he attended a festival in Hexham and walked past their stall which had information about the organisation and their volunteer opportunities. He had a talk with the Tyne Rivers Trust Volunteer Co-ordinator who was running the stall and decided that it would be an ideal opportunity for himself.
“I expected to undertake outdoor work with other volunteers, to make improvements to the Tyne River Catchment Area”, and he wasn’t disappointed. The reality lived up to his expectations and “my impressions were good following my first few volunteering days”. Indeed, he said he feels valued and “the Tyne Rivers Trust staff and volunteers are all friendly and made me feel very welcome”. According to John the Trust is also a very social organisation and to show appreciation they regularly organize events for the volunteers, such as “a visit to the Kielder Salmon Hatchery and a Christmas social evening at the pub!” John feels that although he had skills to begin with he has also developed new ones because “I’ve undertaken and enjoyed practical tasks which I had not previously experienced” He said he feels supported by the Tyne Rivers Trust Volunteer Co-ordinator, who always works with them on each task, giving instruction about what needs to be done. The Trust provide transport in their trucks from their offices at Stagshaw Bank near Corbridge, to the sites where voluntary work is to be completed, or they reimburse travel expenses when volunteers use their own cars.
John said he feels there are a variety of positives to volunteering for Tyne Rivers trust. They include:
- Meeting, working with and enjoying the company of new people
- Working in the beautiful Northumberland countryside
- Making real improvements to the Tyne River Catchment Area
- Undertaking voluntary work on tasks such as tree planting, I am saving the Tyne Rivers Trust the cost of employing a person to do this work, thereby assisting its financial viability
- Benefiting from exercise and fresh air
- Obtaining a sense of purpose and achievement
Given such a list of positive experiences then, is it any wonder that involvement in such activities has a positive effect on our emotions and mental/physical wellbeing?
My next post will look at other benefits of environmental volunteering, but this time I’ll be chatting to someone who protects and cares for the Northumberland coastline.
If you are interested in becoming a volunteer with the Tyne Rivers Trust then why not check out their web site at http://www.tyneriverstrust.org/support-us/volunteering/
Alternatively you can visit Northumberland CVA database where you will find a huge variety of volunteering opportunities available www.northumberlandcva.org.uk