Playing your part

PUBLISHED: 05:32 02 February 2015

Sarah Purse doing some conservation work while volunteering at Oxburgh Hall

Sarah Purse doing some conservation work while volunteering at Oxburgh Hall

©National Trust Images/Robert Morris

If you love nature and historic places, why not get involved with the National Trust? Making a difference locally is a rewarding and fun way to spend your time, writes Jeremy Owen.

Sheringham Park, family fun pond dippingSheringham Park, family fun pond dipping

Volunteering is the heartbeat of the National Trust, with an incredible 10 volunteers for every member of staff. All kinds of different people give up their time to support the charity, from the recently retired to graduates and school-leavers looking to get much needed work experience. With historic houses, nature reserves and even a residential activity centre for kids, the types of roles available in Norfolk vary enormously.

And volunteers get involved in every aspect of the trust’s work protecting places of historic importance or natural beauty – from saving stranded seals at Blakeney Point to acting in “living history” performances at Blickling, Felbrigg and Oxburgh. Behind the scenes, the trust is always looking for support with its administration duties or serving in its bookshops and tearooms. There is also a limited number of graduate opportunities at the trust’s houses and nature reserves.

Learning is fun

Jenny Brandish was taking her dog for a walk at Sheringham Park some five years ago when she spotted a poster advertising volunteering opportunities. She got in touch, and with more than 25 years’ experience as a pre-school supervisor, she was soon snapped up by the park’s learning team. She hasn’t looked back since.

“Volunteering with the trust is very rewarding,” says Jenny, of West Runton. “My background has come in really handy as I am used to running activities with children. I love seeing children discovering things – I don’t think I’ve ever stopped seeing the world through a child’s eyes!”

Jenny is part of the team that looks after Sheringham Park’s parent and toddler group, Acorns. She also works with educational school visits and helps deliver other learning activities for children of all ages, such as Wild Art sessions, Forest School, bug hunting and events themed on the trust’s popular 50 Things to do Before You’re 11¾.

“Anything that gets children up close to nature has to be good. We are trying to engage children in nature as early as possible and we just hope they carry on enjoying it throughout their lives.”

At nearby Felbrigg Hall, Jenny dons a Victorian costume and helps teach school children what life was like for youngsters working in the servants’ hall of a country mansion – polishing brass, setting the table, folding napkins.

“I would certainly recommend volunteering with the trust,” adds Jenny. “The best thing about my volunteering role is that it is so varied and I do feel my contribution is valued and appreciated. We also have a lot of fun!”

Valuable experience

These days most employers want to see experience on your CV before they offer you even a sniff of a job. But how do you obtain that all important experience without first having a job to give you it? School-leavers and graduates are finding voluntary work is the solution – offering valuable experience and the chance to have a hands-on test run of your chosen career path.

Sarah Purse, 23, from Dereham, joined the trust a year ago as a voluntary assistant house steward at the moated Tudor manor house Oxburgh Hall. Looking after a building that’s more than 500 years old means everything from cleaning it every morning before the public arrives to carrying out important and technical condition reports on historic items. Often conservation tasks are carried out in front of curious visitors, many of whom enjoy chatting to Sarah and the other volunteers.

“Our visitors are lovely,” says Sarah. “It is really enjoyable and rewarding to be able to share my knowledge and love of this wonderful old place, with its long and very complicated history.”

Sarah’s love of history drove her towards a career in the heritage world. At Oxburgh she has been trusted with roles and responsibilities that will stand her in good stead in future.

“To begin with I joined up to gain experience for my career. But I’m also doing it because I enjoy it. You get to meet such a wide variety of people, from all kinds of different backgrounds. I’ve made some really good friends here, both among the house team and the other volunteers. I’d definitely recommend it.”

To find out more, visit one of Norfolk’s National Trust properties, call the regional volunteer coordinator on 01284 747566, or email

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