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"One of the best aspects has been watching young people develop": Greg's VM Experience

Greg joined the Re:Green programme as a Volunteer Manager (VM) in September 2021, spending two weeks at the Kilchoan Estate in Scotland.

Greg, 45, is the Environment, Social and Governance Manager for a global aviation services company. Greg joined the Re:Green programme as a Volunteer Manager (VM) in September 2021, spending two weeks at the Kilchoan Estate in the Western Highlands.

I was based on the Kilchoan Estate in Scotland, and I was amazed at the broad range of project activities that we could get involved in.

We worked with a marine conservation specialist who leads on an oyster rewilding programme, to reintroduce the native oyster back into the saltwater loch here. We took part in beach clean-ups so, despite it being a beautiful part of the west coast of Scotland, there’s unfortunately still litter and plastic found on the beaches, so we spent a couple of sessions doing litter clearance.

There are some quite rare bird species here, including the sea eagle and the golden eagle, so we spent some time doing maintenance on a hide for bird spotters, which is up in the hills.

Another part of our work was removing gorse, which can choke the natural tree species that were planted to rewild the estate. Cutting back the gorse allows the tree saplings to take hold and give them the space to grow.  We also monitored rare plant and insect species. We saw some interesting ferns, and one of the best finds was a Marsh Fritillary caterpillar. It hasn’t been spotted here since the 1970s, and we came across it, which was really exciting.

Being around young people who are interested and motivated in making change is infectious, it rubs off on you. 

Every day one person in the group takes on the role of day leader. Some people have no experience with leadership roles and needed more support than others. We’ve been able to watch that change and see people grow in confidence in themselves, their abilities, and their decisions. As VMs we didn’t say – these are the things you must do as a day leader – they came up with a list, the aims and objectives, and stuck to that. It’s been great to watch.

We also met regularly with volunteers in a one-to-one setting and discussed their goals and objectives. You can really see how they developed both as individuals and as a team.

The programme is split into practical project activities and the Re:Green curriculum, which gives the volunteers a strong grounding in sustainability and environmental action.

The curriculum has been really important, otherwise, it wouldn’t have opened up those environmental discussions, so it’s been nice to have had the opportunity to do both things alongside with one another.

My personal highlight has been watching a group of people from very different backgrounds come together.

Initially, as with any new group, there was a bit of anxiety and nervousness, but it’s been lovely to watch how our team has gelled despite their differences in both age and background. There have been highs and lows, everyone goes through missing home at different points, but they’ve helped one another through that, and I think they are much better for it.

Being on Re:Green has challenged me and my thinking around the environment. It’s definitely made me more conscious of the decisions that I make, and the changes that I’ll be making at home.

My goal is to be more considered in my purchasing, so not just using Amazon, or one of the other online marketplaces, but being more selective and mindful about where products come from. Lots of people like to think that they‘re doing the right thing by the environment, but I think there’s much more that we can all do. And I was certainly in the former camp, but I’d like to think that I will make those changes, not just in my professional life but also in my private life.

What Re:Green provides is the ability to partner with young people for a fortnight or a month, and actually have proper conversations about what they think about the environment.

They need to be involved in the decisions, it’s their future, and I think having an opportunity to live with and work alongside young people is really unique, and I’m pleased that we are part of that now and going forwards.

Raleigh has been around for 35 years and has done some amazing work overseas – around 55,000 young people have been involved in programmes in about 50 different countries. So, an amazing achievement in a relatively short space of time. But I think the Re:Green programme, and conservation work here in our own country is, to some extent, long overdue. It’s been really good to see how young people who live inside and outside of Scotland can come and do some good within our shores.

I would encourage any organisation that is serious about making positive change and engaging its staff to think seriously about taking part on the Re:Green programme.

While releasing staff from the work environment for three to five weeks is a good chunk of time, I think that the return on investment is more than worth it – both in terms of personal development but also in terms of a company putting its money where its mouth is by sending people off to make a positive contribution.

The words I’d use to describe my Re:Green experience are enlightening, at times challenging, and developmental.

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