Author: Suse Coon

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Wednesday, July 30th, 2008 at 6:34 pm
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Green Volunteers Find a New Way

When it comes to schoolwork, not everyone enjoys sitting in a classroom but four former pupils from Queensferry High School found a great practical alternative that has pointed at least one of the lads in a career direction.

As part of the Princes’ Trust XL Programme, which offers an alternative curriculum as a replacement to a Standard Grade qualification, Stuart McLeary, Robert Stoves, Liam Black and Christopher Vaughan spent a day at the Pineapple House in Perthshire as volunteers with the National Trust for Scotland (NTS). They enjoyed it so much that they asked to continue as volunteers, working for two John Muir Awards. BAA sponsorship of NTS’s Community Partnerships  scheme made it possible for the boys to continue their work right until they left school. It also included a four day residential project at Brodick Castle and Goatfell on the Isle of Arran.

As volunteers they found themselves designing and constructing paths for wheelchair access, making a pond and undertaking general gardening work. The lads found that the work was not only satisfying, they also learnt useful organisational skills, including selecting the type of tasks they undertook, planning the work, managing the project days and recording their progress through photo and films. They even organised the residential project, where they had to live together, cook and clean as well as work!

Claire Spence, the school’s youth worker says, “working with the BAA members of staff on a shared task where the young people were equal members of the team, encouraged the young people to be actively involved rather than passive recipients. They felt they had shared ownership over the task and were treated as adults”.

The boys achieved both their ‘Discovery’ and ‘Explorer’ level John Muir Awards and a National Trust for Scotland certificate to recognize their ‘significant contribution as a volunteer’.

Kim McIntosh, Community Partnerships Coordinator at the Trust says, “Stuart, Robert, Liam and Christopher have given so much to the Trust, carrying out important projects at Inveresk Lodge Garden that have really made a difference. They are so enthusiastic about conservation. It is fantastic to see them gain their second John Muir Trust Award. I’m pleased that the Trust was able to help them achieve this and I hope that they continue in their conservation work for years to come.”

The aim of the Community Partnership Scheme is to engage with people who would not normally visit National Trust Properties. However, what Stuart, Robert, Chris and Liam have learnt as people is even more important.

Liam’s Story
Liam did not attend the first BAA/National Trust for Scotland volunteering day at the Pineapple House last April as he had been excluded from school. After hearing about the day from other young people Liam made an effort to be able to participate in the project from then on. He was on a permanent reduced timetable and his only full school days were the volunteer days with the Trust. It was quickly evident to both school and Trust staff that the practical, outdoor learning environment was a great place for Liam to be. He was continually enthusiastic on project and put great effort into the tasks, becoming a role model for others in the group. It was great for his confidence and self esteem to be viewed in a positive light by his peers. Liam continually commented on how pleased he was to be working so effectively with his classmates and to be shown respect by them and staff.

“Liam’s family has acknowledged a marked difference in his self esteem and confidence since being involved in the programme,” said Claire Spence. “Other school staff and parents have identified the connections between his involvement in the programme and his retention in school. Liam himself also commented, in a feedback session, that the motivation for coming out with the National Trust for Scotland, has encouraged him to ‘hold it together’ at school”.

Liam continued to excel through the project days by taking responsibility for practical and logistical organization. He worked through challenges successfully by using problem solving skills and effective communication. He began to realize that working in an outdoor environment may well be what he wanted to do with his life.

In May Liam applied for a course in Landscape Gardening at Oatridge College. His application stated that he had sat four standard grade exams (for which he had not yet received results). Other than this his key element in his application was his experience of volunteering with the National Trust for Scotland. Through this involvement, he achieved both his Discovery and Explorer level John Muir Awards and he completed 16 full days of volunteering. Liam’s application has been successful and he begins his college course in September.

And Liam is not the only one to experience the benefits of volunteering. Said Stuart, “I’ve learnt a lot about responsibility and leadership. If I wasn’t doing this, I’d just be on my sofa playing my Xbox.”

Instead, Stuart is due to start a college course in mechanics. Robert hopes to return to the Trust next year to help out new students.

Working with the Trust has opened up new opportunities for these youngsters, proving that projects such as XL and Community Partnerships can reach way beyond their original remit and can point people in surprising directions.

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