Heather has been a volunteer for around 15 years at the Boaz Project, an organisation in Sutton Scotney that provides a therapeutic work environment for adults with learning difficulties.
She shares here what it’s like volunteering on the farm, supporting people with skills and activities, and being part of the team at Boaz.
What do you do at the Boaz Project?
I think horticulture is a very important part of Boaz, so we plant bulbs in pots and that’s one of the things the members find quite satisfying and they can do quite easily. And then we pot on younger plants and seedlings into bigger pots in the greenhouse and then outside.
There are lots of jobs to do on the allotment, weeding and tending the plants and watering and growing tomatoes, those sorts of things we help with. And then also because we’ve got chickens we have to feed them, collect the eggs, clean them up and get them ready for sale. Some of the eggs can be bought by the volunteers, staff and members, and some of them are sold to the nearby post office. They’re lovely eggs.
And then there are lots of crafts, the members quite often choose a craft project they would like to do and the volunteers help them with it, so it’s very varied. Outside, we walk the donkeys, we’ve only got one donkey now but that’s a very nice way of us all having some exercise and going around the farm estate. If we have any guinea pigs, it’s looking after them.
Cooking- the members enjoy cooking, quite often cakes and savoury things as well. We’re trying to introduce nice healthy things for them to make, and flapjacks or soup. But that’s popular, the members always enjoy doing that.
There are other jobs, painting- woodwork, bits of the building, or planters, various thing. I’ve done some of that- I haven’t really done much of the woodwork myself but there are lots of things which the members can learn to do.’
How does volunteering make a difference for you?
Hopefully, I’ve grown a little bit as it’s given me a much clearer understanding of the difficulties many people have to face in their day-to-day lives, which I didn’t always know about. So as a result of that I’ve become hopefully more tolerant and a bit more patient. I’ve learned a lot from their characters and the ways they get on with things and cope with things. As a volunteer you can see how they have developed, a lot of them have become more confident and have learned how to do things they wouldn’t normally get the opportunity to try, or to do, so it’s such a valuable place and it’s a very happy place.
How does volunteering support your organisation?
‘Boaz is dependent on volunteers so that it can manage everything. There are always going to be financial concerns but with the volunteers being there they don’t have to pay people to come and do the work. So it couldn’t run without volunteers because there wouldn’t be enough finance to pay people who’d work there.
What impact does volunteering at the Boaz Project have for the wider community?
‘It provides a place for people to go, whereas they would normally not be able to work, and meet people and learn new skills, so it’s very useful. There aren’t enough places like it really. There are lots of people I think in the wider community who would love to be able to take part in an organisation like Boaz.’
Would you recommend volunteering to anyone else and why?
Yes, I certainly would. It’s just a lovely place to go, and it’s nice to feel that you’re making a difference in the lives of people and teaching people new skills. It’s always friendly, you get a nice welcome, and I must say one of the attractions of working for Boaz is it’s such a beautiful place to be; out in the country, with lovely views of the fields. You can find that you forget your own troubles, if you’ve got any, because you’re so busy and happy seeing the members and the staff.
What support, training, and social activities are provided?
‘There has been some first aid training, and also safeguarding training, activities, and discussions. For social activities, occasionally we have a quiz over Zoom- well, it was on Zoom because of COVID but when there’s not COVID, we’d get together for a meal. Sometimes that’s in a hall and we’d get food, and sometimes it’s in Leckford estate and there’s a lovely coffee shop, we’d get breakfast there. And yes, it’s very nice for volunteers to meet other people.
How do you usually keep in touch with other volunteers?
With each other, it is as above, and there are also regular Zoom meetings for both members and volunteers. Volunteers also often wrote letters to members during COVID.