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4 great outdoor volunteering opportunities in Kent

PUBLISHED: 15:23 17 June 2019 | UPDATED: 15:23 17 June 2019

Billy Thompson and volunteers at The Retreat Animal Rescue (photo: Manu Palomeque)

Billy Thompson and volunteers at The Retreat Animal Rescue (photo: Manu Palomeque)

Manu Palomeque 07977074797

If you love being active and out in the fresh air, there are plenty of ways you can combine both with helping your community

Have you ever considered volunteering? It doesn't start and end with charity shops in the high street - there are abundant exciting opportunities for those who prefer the great outdoors. Boost your physical and mental health while making a positive contribution to your local community at the same time.

If this kind of volunteering sounds like it's for you, there's a plethora of opportunities right on your doorstep.

- The Retreat, High Halden

The Retreat in High Halden is a haven for animal lovers. Founded in 2012, Billy Thompson and his team of volunteers work tirelessly to look after more than 1,000 animals at any one time including - but not limited to - pigs, cows, sheep, goats, donkeys, horses, geese, turkeys, foxes, badgers, cats and dogs.

These beautiful creatures are rescued from a variety of places; cows from slaughterhouses, abandoned pet pigs, horses left in fields, or animals that have become homeless after their owner has sadly died. The Retreat operates a strict policy that if the animals can't be found loving, permanent homes, they'll spend the rest of their lives being loved and cared for right there.

The Retreat receives no government funding and relies solely on donations and volunteers. Volunteers are given duties depending on their capabilities and preferences, so you could be doing anything from a bit of cat cuddling (yes, you really can volunteer to go and cuddle the cats) to more physical duties like cleaning or paddock management. Volunteers can also work in the shop and vegan café situated in the Retreat's 50 acres of farmland.

Angie Farr, a volunteer for four years, says: "I've always loved horses but I wasn't able to have my own one, so coming here to volunteer is the next best thing."

- Spadework, West Malling

Set in seven acres surrounded by stunning Kent countryside, Spadework - just outside West Malling - was set up in 1984 to provide life skills training and work experience to trainees with learning disabilities.

Along with the gardens and nursery, Spadework also houses a garden centre, farm shop and 50-seat café, with all profits from these being given back to the charity.

This is the perfect opportunity for green-fingered volunteers with people skills to work closely with trainees in all manner of duties, including tending the vegetable patch, planting, digging, or going off-site delivering vegetable boxes to local residents or doing a spot of gardening at private houses.

Spadework is also keen to give back to the community by putting on fun events such as coffee mornings, wine tastings, craft fairs and workshops.

You can't fail to notice the atmosphere at Spadework - it's positively teeming with happiness and tranquillity. The volunteers, from all walks of life, smile when they talk about their time there.

"I wanted to give something back when I retired," says former vicar and police officer Jim Brown. Rowena Carlton, who's been volunteering at Spadework for 10 months, also says she wanted to give something back to the community when she stopped work.

"I'm a keen gardener and when I retired from my job at a special needs school, this fitted the bill perfectly," she beams.

Bridget Marrison (fourth from right) with some of the Spadework trainees (photo: Manu Palomeque)Bridget Marrison (fourth from right) with some of the Spadework trainees (photo: Manu Palomeque)

Volunteers aren't required to have any special qualifications other than patience, kindness and the ability to explain things carefully.

- Broadstairs Town Team, Broadstairs

Kerry Millet - the chair of Broadstairs Town Team - and seven trustees all willingly give their time for free to make Broadstairs a better place to live, work and visit.

Kerry moved to Broadstairs from London after volunteering at the 2012 Olympics and was eager to continue to be engaged and useful. Together with the help of volunteers, the Broadstairs team has donated more than 10,000 hours on Town Team projects to date. Relying solely on donations and volunteering, with no government funding, members step in where the council are unable due to lack of resources, to clean, tidy and brighten up the town, making it a nicer place for everyone in the process.

Kerry says: "Some 80 per cent of our volunteers are retired and say joining the volunteering team has been a lifeline. It's a fantastic way to combat isolation and loneliness, enabling them to form friendships and networks outside of volunteering."

There are plenty of outdoor activities to get involved with, such as litter-picking and beach-cleaning and gardening duties including planting bulbs and creating wildlife-friendly gardens. To ensure everyone's safety and wellbeing, all are given training sessions to make sure they get the most out of it.

Kerry Millett, chair of Broadstairs Town Team, gives her time for free to make Broadstairs a better place to live, work and visit (photo: Manu Palomeque)Kerry Millett, chair of Broadstairs Town Team, gives her time for free to make Broadstairs a better place to live, work and visit (photo: Manu Palomeque)

Kerry's passion for the project is obvious. She says: "Volunteering is incredible for you - it's good for your mental and physical health. It gives you so much more than you put in, giving you a sense of self-worth and feeding your positive karma."

- White Cliffs Countryside Partnership, Folkestone/Dover

If conservation is your passion, you'll be spoilt for choice at White Cliffs Countryside Partnership. They have a huge calendar of daily tasks, including light duties such as counting wildflowers, visual tasks like looking for butterflies or bees, and more physical tasks such as building steps or cutting down vegetation.

You can even be a 'looker' for the Highland Cows who graze on the downs, a popular duty for people with dogs who are out walking their pets anyway.

Volunteers have a myriad of reasons for donating their time to White Cliffs Countryside Partnership: to feel rewarded by being useful, to keep their local environment healthy, to meet new people and to feel energised by spending time outdoors.

James, who volunteers at Samphire Hoe, says: "I've learned to identify birds, plants, learned people skills and developed a passion for photography."

If you're unsure whether volunteering for WCC is for you, go along to one of their easy to do half-day conservation tasks to find out what volunteering with them is all about. These tasks could include path clearing, vegetation management or working on livestock fencing.

Sue Bradford volunteers for the White Cliffs Countryside Partnership (photo: Manu Palomeque)Sue Bradford volunteers for the White Cliffs Countryside Partnership (photo: Manu Palomeque)

There's no commitment to how much or how little of your time and energy you want to donate and under-18s are welcome if supervised by an adult. If you love the outdoors and want to help the habitat, White Cliffs have something for everyone.

If you're interested in moving into this type of work as paid employment, you'll get skills to put on your CV which will enhance your work prospects. Some previous volunteers have used their experiences at WCC as a stepping stone to a career in conservation.

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