The Heart of the Chilterns: Volunteer Champions #1 Jacob Pestana, Chiltern Rangers Volunteer
This is the first in our monthly volunteering blog series. Jacob Pestana joined Chiltern Rangers in 2014, aged seventeen, as a work placement on his Berkshire College of Agriculture Course. He soon became a regular volunteer and eight years on, tells us how conservation volunteering helped his confidence and independence and helped him cope with a bereavement. He has autism and dyspraxia.
“My work placement was really regular so it meant that I got to know other people quite well because I saw them once a week. A year later, when the course I was doing ended, I didn’t want to leave Chiltern Rangers so I started volunteering and I haven’t looked back. I soon became part of the team, volunteering at least twice a week, sometimes even more.
I go out with the Rangers onto lots of different sites across the Chilterns to help look after the chalk grasslands, the woodlands and the river Wye. I really like being outside in the fresh air and working as part of a team.
I have autism and dyspraxia and volunteering for Chiltern Rangers has massively helped me with so much. It’s quite a physical role and I have learned how to use various tools like loppers and bow saws to safely fell trees. With the help of the team and other volunteers, I have learned lots of skills like how to use a hammer and nails to put up rails on a fence and how to use a drill when building a bird box. I have also planted hundreds of trees over the years!
Without a doubt, my confidence has grown massively since volunteering and I now help the Rangers with lots of extra jobs like unlocking and locking padlocks on vehicle gates when we arrive or leave site. By far my proudest moment has been learning how to safely put branches through the wood chipper. I cannot use every machine that the Rangers use but anything that I can do safely, the Rangers always encourage me to have a go with their help and supervision. Volunteering means that I can do things now that I never thought I would be able to do.
My favourite place to volunteer is in the woods. I feel safe in the woods. It makes me feel calm and relaxed and gives me a space to clear my thoughts if I am feeling anxious about something. I have faced some challenges over the years and in 2017, my mum passed away. It was a very difficult time but I had a lot of support from my dad and brother. I continued to volunteer and it helped me to cope by having a routine in a friendly place with people I knew well and I could keep busy and take my mind off things.
Volunteering has given me lots of great memories over the years and we have had lots of fun along the way and I feel like I have achieved so much. My best achievement so far has been winning the Volunteer of the Year Award for 2020. I was awarded it because I am consistent and reliable and if I can do extra to help, I always do. I was really proud to win it and so were my dad and brother. It was a great thing to win. I’ve made lots of progress since I started volunteering and I have proved that I am capable of other things as I now also volunteer as a Porter at a hospital alongside volunteering for Chiltern Rangers. I am now far more confident and independent.
If I could give tips to new volunteers. I would say give it a go! Be confident and embrace new challenges – if you don’t like it, you don’t have to do it. Oh, and be prepared for any weather…I have been soaked to the skin and roasted in hot weather but I love volunteering and will keep coming back.”
Chiltern Rangers works with local communities to provide habitat management in the woodlands, chalk grassland, commons, ponds and chalk streams of Buckinghamshire and the Chilterns. Their work is achieved with the help of their volunteers – people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds, plus community organisations, charities, social enterprises, schools & colleges. If you’re interested in volunteering with the Chiltern Rangers, you can find out more about how to get involved on their website.
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