The future is bright for volunteering on the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site!
By Caroline Pearce- Engagement and Partnerships Manager
Two and a half years seem to have gone by in a blink of an eye and we have come to the end of the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) Coastal Communities funded Jurassic Coast Volunteer Network project.
But, even considering challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, we are delighted to have been able to deliver tangible outcomes which have impacted on the lives of our volunteers and improve capacity and reource for a range of not- for- profit partners along the coast.
We will take you on a short journey from the idea and need for a volunteer network to the start of the JCVN project and its successes and challenges, to what happens next and showcase some of our amazing volunteers we have met through this project…read on!
Why create a joined-up volunteer network for the Jurassic Coast?
Let us rewind to late 2017 when the concept of the Jurassic Coast Volunteer Network was born; the idea of a joined-up volunteer network which provided training, skills development and enabled dedicated volunteers to work across multiple organisations was a ‘need’ we were hearing loudly from many of visitor centres, museums and landowners across the Coast as part of a consultation process which the Trust undertook following its transition from Local Authority management. Heritage partner organisations (referred to here as ‘partners’) told us that the function of managing volunteers, from recruiting them, training them and retaining them, was time intensive and yet essential to the success of their day- to- day operations.
We recognised this need and challenge from our own experience. The Jurassic Coast Trust has a long standing, successful ‘Ambassador’ programme, made up of dedicated volunteers who deliver public engagement on behalf of the Trust along the length of the coast. We are grateful for the skills, expertise and dedication of our volunteers, whilst recognising the challenge of allocating internal resource to ensure regular communication, professional development and support.
In the wider context of the challenges and opportunities which present in communities along the Jurassic Coast, we were aware of the issues facing young people in particular; from seasonal recruitment resulting in insecure income, to securing steps into future careers and the limited opportunities to network with potential future employers. Our research showed us that large numbers of young people were leaving coastal communities due to a lack of opportunities, which did not bode well for future economic stability.
The idea of creating a volunteering network did not only appear to fulfil the needs as identified by our partners along the coast, but also provided opportunities for volunteers to gain invaluable accredited skills and experience which would upskill them and introduce them to local businesses for future employment.
To confirm our understanding of this wider need in communities on the Jurassic Coast, we drew on reports such as The Dorset Community Foundation report titled ‘Hidden Dorset’ (2015) which highlighted the issues of deprivation amongst rural Dorset; the higher-than-average number of young people presenting as not in education, employment or training (NEET) in Weymouth and Portland and the proportion of young people in jobs without training in Dorset, which was higher than in both the South West and the country as a whole.
Our wider research from the UK Commission for Employment and Skills report (2012) identified skills gaps, underemployment and worklessness deprivation across both counties. These reports drew on research published by Local Enterprise Partnerships. We consulted the Lower Super Output Area statistics published by the Office for National Statistics, 2015.
Our research cemented the need for opportunities to gain work experience amongst young people and those currently not in employment on the Jurassic Coast to gain future paid employment with 55% of employers stating that a lack of work experience was a reason they would not recruit a candidate for a role.
Additionally, the NCVO Economic Report at that time, suggested that volunteers derive tangible benefits from volunteering including enjoyment, enhanced self-esteem, personal development, occupational experience, reduced stress, improved health and education and learning new skills. We learnt from the NCVO Volunteering and Paid Employment report (2013) that 40% of volunteers go on to gain paid employment after a period of 6 months volunteering.
Subsequently, we were satisfied that the need for this project was clear and when the opportunity to apply for the Coast Communities fund became available, we recognised an opportunity to make a real difference for our partners and to potentially impact on the wider socio-economic needs of communities on the Jurassic Coast. We went on to consult local Economic Plans and gained support from Coastal Community Teams in Bridport and West Bay and East Devon.
The rest, as they say, is history! We were awarded a 2-and-a-half-year grant by MHCLG via the Coastal Communities Fund to deliver this project, with a focus on providing opportunities for partners to benefit from a fully funded volunteer for up to 3 months (all volunteer expenses and training was paid for via the fund) and to assist volunteers gain work experience and skills within tourism, visitor management and conservation roles along the Jurassic Coast.
The project delivered its first placement in April 2019 after we developed our bespoke digital platform and became an in-house accredited AQA training centre with a suite of tailored training resources.
The programme was fully operational for a full year prior to the first lockdown in March 2020 with 67 volunteers working with 24 placement providers with an average of 96 volunteering hours per placement.
This equates to 6432 volunteering hours across our partners, or 918 days.
If we use the assumption of the hourly minimum wage for an 18-year-old (£8.20p/h) this equates to £52,742 in saved resources across our partners, who benefitted from volunteers to help with capacity and delivery of their services.
The benefits to volunteers were equally as tangible, as detailed in just a couple of our case studies. Volunteers gained valuable work experience, AQA vocational qualifications, the opportunity to build networks and contacts, and in some cases, went on to create their own projects to continue their work.
As an accredited AQA training centre, we enabled and encouraged all volunteers to undertake a suite of training units. This was a digital process completed and assessed online. We accredited 37 AQA training modules for our volunteers which included CV writing, customer service skills, geology of the Jurassic Coast and local heritage.
Volunteering in a COVID-19-lockdown world
We continued to receive applications from volunteers during lockdown, with many keen to use the time to develop skills and build networks; and yet the opportunities to go out to work were extremely limited.
We provided innovative solutions for volunteers to continue working remotely, providing opportunities to offer partners digital support and creating online resources for continued communications with partners and wider public engagement. They have undertaken research, writing and designing materials and creating videos. This has ensured continued communication and public engagement for when businesses re-open and welcome back visitors,
When circumstances allowed, many of our volunteers requested to become involved with beach cleans, forming close links with partners at Lulworth Estate and Litter Free Coast and Sea.
Future of Jurassic Coast Volunteer Network
After such a successful start we were disappointed that the project was dramatically affected and limited during lockdown, however we have a year of evidence to suggest there was a need for the project, from the 24 partners who hosted volunteers to the initial 67 volunteers who undertook placements. During the latest lockdown we continued to work with 27 volunteers who are awaiting the green light to go back out onto the coast and make a difference, we continue to receive a steady stream of volunteers applying to undertake placements.
We also recognise that many partners operate their own volunteering scheme s, JCT is keen to encourage wider partnership working and will continue to facilitate volunteer co-ordination, continue network building and offering careers talks to providers such as the Princes Trust, Weymouth College and various Universities with an Earth Sciences focus.
As we are now an accredited AQA training centre, we will continue to offer accreditation to volunteers, staff and businesses along the Jurassic Coast. We provide online training and accreditation about the coast’s heritage, climate change and sustainable tourism messages.
The Jurassic Coast Trust has taken the decision to continue the Jurassic Coast Volunteer Network post the funded period for the benefits it brings to our partners and communities. The programme will adapt to reflect our internal capacity, but we are excited about its future and new initiatives to come!
We would like to thank all our partners who have supported the project and placed volunteers within their organisations; the volunteers who have worked on the coast, Groundworks UK and MHCLG Coastal Community Fund for being the catalyst to making the Jurassic Coast Volunteer Network a reality.
Just a few of our success stories…
Roy was looking for a change of work direction and had a passion for being
outdoors. We thought he was perfect for a Ranger volunteer placement and he soon started working with the Ranger team at Lulworth Estate.
Roy got stuck in with fence and sign repairing and scrub clearance. Lulworth Estate suggested that Roy would benefit from gaining his brush cutting qualification and JCT paid for this as part of his placement.
As Roy’s placement developed, he became involved in the beach cleaning issues being faced by Lulworth in the summer of 2020, becoming a well- known public figure, featuring in press and news articles for speaking out about litter on beaches. Roy has now gone on to set up ‘Clean Jurassic Coast Community Interest Company’ with a coast wide remit of tackling the beach litter and plastics issue. He has since recruited 50 active volunteers for his beach cleaning operations and remain in close contact with JCT.
Manminder was placed with City Cruises in Poole who have a strong interest in ecotourism. They requested a volunteer to help with marketing their coastal trips which include wildlife spotting around Dancing Ledge and tours to Old Harry Rocks.
Manminder researched how the company would implement sustainability and came up with suggestions on how to improve upon the current recycling and sustainability practices. She also researched how to improve the current sales and marketing plan with regards to social media platforms and methodologies.
Abigail joined the Dorset Countryside Ranger team, undertaking a wide range of conservation activities including vegetation clearance and the repairing and replacement of boardwalks and bridges. She took part in both a bird and butterfly survey, spent time in their workshop and made a waymarker sign which involved the cutting of the wood to shape, stencilling the wording and routing it out, then painting and installing it.
Lucy was studying Sustainable Environmental Management which looks at how management strategies can be applied to real life situations. She approached us to gain relevant work experience and was placed with Litter Free Coast and Sea who empower people to take action to reduce beach litter and improve bathing water quality. Lucy was involved in their educational programme and public engagement and also wrote blogs on coastal litter. Her experience has helped her gain a place on an environmental Masters course.