A year as a Myplace Trainee

Volunteers at Brockholes Nature Reserve

Myplace trainee, Carrie, has been with us for the past year. Here, she reflects on her time with the project and shares what she has learnt.

For the past year, I have been working as a trainee on the Myplace project. I applied for the traineeship after seeing project staff talk at Lancashire Wildlife Trust’s volunteer conference. The talk was a revelation for me. I watch wildlife and go on hikes, not just for fun and fitness, but because it makes me feel better. Calmer, grounded, and better connected. But I didn’t know this was an actual, scientifically-evidenced *thing*. A thing called ecotherapy. A technique that improves wellbeing in people of any age, helps people grow skills, and has positive side effects (like encouraging people to look after their local greenspaces). I was re-training for a career in the environmental sector when the traineeships were advertised, having left a role in Higher Education student support in 2016. The opportunity seemed like a perfect combination, involving conservation, employability, and wellbeing.

A large part of my role has been delivering Myplace “hub” sessions. These are weekly 2-3 hour long sessions held at greenspaces throughout the region, including Brockholes Nature Reserve, Grange Community Gardens in Preston, and Duxbury Woods in Chorley. I have mainly worked with unemployed adults who want to grow their skills, make new friends, and build up the confidence to move on to employment or further training. I’ve delivered a whole range of outdoor practical activities based upon five themes of ecotherapy: conservation, nature walks, bushcraft, growing, and mindfulness. I’ve also seen first-hand the effects of working outdoors on participants’ mental health: they report improved sleep, reduced side effects from medication, reduced social anxiety, and greater confidence in their own abilities.  

Carrie with Mayor of Preston, councillor Trevor Hart

Carrie with Mayor of Preston, councillor Trevor Hart

As well as hub delivery, I’ve been out in the community recruiting participants, running taster sessions for partnership organisations, and organising volunteer training days. I’ve received some epic training myself, including a two-day bushcraft event in Derbyshire. My team learned a number of techniques including flax spinning, string making, pump drilling and campfire gadget construction. We spent the night in the woods (and sang campfire songs) so it was the full bushcraft experience. It’s been a busy year but all this experience has helped me build on a number of skills. Community development, volunteer management, practical skills, project evaluation techniques, partnership working, applying for funding, working independently, accountability, mental health awareness – these skills are useful in any job in the environmental sector, especially roles that involve connecting people with nature.

I would love to say that changing careers to the environmental sector has been easy. But it has come with its fair share of challenges. Sometimes, my own wellbeing has suffered. Working on this project has given me a better understanding of my own mental health, the ability to recognise when I am limiting myself, and the bravery to start making changes. It has taught me the importance of compassion for other people, the environment, and ourselves (did you know that being compassionate actually affects your brain chemistry and can make you more resilient to stress?). I’ve been supported by a fabulous team of colleagues who helped me through low points, and gave me a nudge in the right direction when needed. I’ve learned valuable lessons not only from project staff, but from participants, many of whom are fighting battles – against addiction, severe anxiety, depression, phobias – and are winning. Truly inspirational people.

Carrie and Myplace join the Bickershaw project

Myplace at Pestfurlong Moss

So, what’s next? My year’s contract at Myplace is over. I’m still looking for my next adventure, but hopefully this will come in the new year. Until then, I aim to enjoy the inevitable Christmas pause, spend quality time with my family, eat a truckload of mince pies, and fire off as many job applications as I can. Recently a Myplace participant, Simon, said to me: “we’re not always around to see the effects of our actions. But put trust in the fact that everything we do has a ripple effect. Do positive, creative things; and positive things will come about”.  

I don’t know what the future holds… but as my time on the Myplace project comes to an end, I’m feeling quite positive about it.