1–7 Jun is National Volunteer Week! Volunteers are an essential part of Harewood, and this week we would like to show our gratitude and give thanks to all of our 200 volunteers for their outstanding volunteer service.
With over 100 acres of Grounds and Gardens, without the hard work of our garden volunteers and the support they provide to the Gardens team, we would be unable to keep our grounds looking so great all year round for our Members and visitors. We would like to introduce you to one of our garden volunteers Ella who has kindly shared with us her experience of volunteering at Harewood and how this has impacted her mental health.
“My. Happy. Place.”
My name is Ella. As part of my University studies, I took part in a three-week volunteer placement with the gardeners at Harewood House Trust, to answer the question; what benefits does volunteering here in the gardens have on my mental health?
I am a fan of worms now. As a child, I thrived in a world of mud and bugs. So perhaps I am predisposed to be intrigued by them. My favourite thing about digging through the soil was the creatures I would come across. I came across earthworms, beetles, millipedes.
Probably more than I know the name of. Volunteering at Harewood made me feel like a child again. I experienced childlike joy at finding these creepy crawlies. Calling to my comrades, “I’ve found a millipede!”. And on one occasion, I found myself watching as a worm attempted to burrow its way back into the soil. A solid 10 minutes I found myself watching. Which, in the grand scheme of time does not sound particularly long… However, that was 10 minutes of spontaneous mindfulness. The first benefit I experienced; how involuntarily mindful working in gardens makes you become. My first day, I experienced some anxiety about meeting a group of new people. Other days, there was the lingering awareness of my deadlines looming that would dampen my mood. After 30 minutes in the gardens, all of that faded away.
We worked in all kinds of weather conditions, rain, snow, sunshine. It was the consensus between us that teamwork plays a role in keeping us motivated. On one day, me and two others were creating a bug motel. At some point temperatures must have dropped as within 20 minutes it had started snowing. My fingers and toes had gone numb, and I was uncomfortable. A part of me wanted to stop what I was doing and go home, frankly. But the ladies I was working with were powering through. And that was all the encouragement I needed to carry on. We distracted ourselves with conversation. Eventually that mindful muscle kicked back in, and I was happy to be outside, and in the snow. I love snow! I marvelled to a colleague that I liked how everyone just gets on with the work, no matter the conditions. She shared the sentiment that working within a team is an excellent motivator. I went home after lunch, with the promise of returning the next day in more layers.
This is the second benefit I found. Working together within a team with a common goal. It is a really nice way to connect with people. As someone who can experience social anxiety, there was none here, for me. Because there is no pressure to spark up a conversation. I relate to my teammates nonverbally, through this shared goal. Within that, it is nice to look up from the mud every now and then and share some words, or anecdotes, or laughs. There is a definite sense of belonging here which I appreciated.
And finally, Volunteering at Harewood has boosted my self-esteem. I have learnt about no-dig soil. This operates on the knowledge that soil is its own, self-sustaining, organism. I own a Rhubarb plant now, whom I love and hope to keep with me for the next 10 years. From the other volunteers, I heard about the trials and errors of growing your own fruits and vegetables. I also felt the pride they expressed after cooking a meal with produce, they grew! I feel inspired to try too. I have gained a new appreciation for nature. And I have learnt tips on how to protect it. Most importantly, I feel encouraged for my future, excited by possibility. The foundation of these experiences? The intention behind it all. Harewood House has very clear intentions to stay relevant with the present day. Much like soil, it is a living organism, that continues to evolve and adapt. And for me, this is vital. Spontaneous mindfulness, working within a team, and learning new things. Ultimately, I do not believe I would have experienced these benefits in abundance if the Trust were not intentionally about creating this safe space.
Thank you so much Ella for sharing your story!