By Guy Morgan
I have been a member of the Newcastle office’s Green Team for a few years. Green Teams have been set up in each of our offices with the role to identify and champion opportunities to reduce environmental impact of Cundall’s offices and business opportunities. One of my main jobs on the team is to organise volunteering opportunities in the local area for staff. As the 15th May was “Give and Gain Day” in 2015, I aimed to organise something to take place then. Give & Gain Day is a national celebration of the incredible power of employee volunteering.
Transforming an engineering gem
The opportunity arose to work with a trust in the Ouseburn valley, which is an area in Newcastle near to the famous Byker Wall housing estate. This fantastic area has caused neck injuries to many civil and structural engineers as it’s hard not to gawp at the three bridges spanning the valley – Ouseburn Viaduct, constructed from wrought iron and opened in 1839, the brick arched Byker Bridge, opened in 1878, and the Byker Metro bridge, built using precast concrete and opened in 1982. The valley also hides the Victoria Tunnel, built in 1842, which runs from the Tyne river at the end of the Ouse Burn to Newcastle city centre, over two miles away. The area is also home to a bustling arts scene, with artists’ studios, rehearsal spaces, recording studios, and the requisite food and drink establishments and live music venues.
Given the area’s engineering and industrial heritage, I thought that organising some volunteer work with the Ouseburn Futures trust would be a perfect fit for Cundall. It turned out to be just that, with a great turnout on a warm and sunny day. There a large number of areas of the valley that have great potential as green spaces, but have either become overgrown or fallen into disrepair; Ouseburn Futures’ “Clean Green Ouseburn” scheme works with volunteers to spruce up these areas, mainly on weekends. Given the size of valley compared to the core group of trustees, maintaining the area is an uphill task – but having volunteered twice now, it is easy to see the difference before and after. As Cundall’s group of volunteers found out on the day, it is a bit easier if the building materials are at the top of the hill when you start!
Cundall’s volunteers worked with the trustees to carry out maintenance on the pathways, and constructed four benches using reclaimed stone and railway sleepers, and cleaned and painted part of the concrete steps running from the bottom of the valley to the top. The work carried out by the teams made an immediate improvement to the areas that were worked in, creating spots to look out over the valley and take in the views. Although the work was hard, the effort was well worthwhile, and the impression I took was that the trust were at least as pleased with our handiwork as we were. Click here to see some photos of the day.
Getting volunteers involved
Volunteering is something that is really easy to do – but the challenge tends to be identifying the opportunities to do so, and giving people enough notice. What I generally try to do in my role on the Green Team is (hopefully) not to badger people to volunteer, and instead try to identify opportunities that people can get involved in instead. At the end of the day, increasing the number of volunteers by way of persistent pestering, to me, would mean that people are not really volunteering. I try to limit office-wide emails about volunteering to two: one email to give people notice and register interest, and one as a reminder confirming dates, times, meeting places etc. I identified the volunteering opportunity with Ouseburn Futures by regularly checking in on the Volunteer Centre website (http://www.volunteercentrenewcastle.org.uk/), which I found by Googling “Volunteer Newcastle”. They obviously put some thought into search engine optimisation before choosing the name of their organisation. The Volunteer Centre is a great resource for opportunities – a huge number of similar groups can be found after five minutes use of a search engine.
Give and Gain…
I have found volunteering to be a great way to get involved in the local area, socialise with work colleagues outside of a work environment, and have found it to be very rewarding. Volunteering is a valuable commodity as it enables organisations like the Ouseburn Trust to operate way beyond their “budget” and improve a huge number of peoples’ standard of living. It’s a good way of getting out of the office too!
Find out more about Cundall – http://www.cundall.com/