VOLUNTEERS HELP ZOOS TO INCREASE THEIR OPERATIONAL CAPACITY, BUT LITTLE RESEARCH EXISTS THAT ASSESS HOW THIS MAY BE BENEFICIAL FOR THE VOLUNTEER.
Our amazing volunteers donate thousands of hours of their time to the zoo every year (almost 28,000 in 2019). In their volunteering roles they support our guests to connect with wildlife, to find out about conservation and to have a great day out at the zoo. They really are an important part of our Chester Zoo family, and we know that volunteering at the zoo is an important part of their lives too.
We appreciate the contribution our volunteers make all year round, but during Volunteers’ Week we come together with others around the country to celebrate the contribution that millions of volunteers make to our society. Things are a little different this year, but the role that volunteers play has never been so important. We shall be celebrating with our volunteer team remotely and looking forwards to the day we can welcome them back into the zoo.
Here one of our newest volunteers, Julie Saville, talks about her experiences volunteering at the zoo, what being a Chester Zoo volunteer means to her and how she’s getting prepared to come back into her volunteering role:
As a child I was brought up on the edge of the Worcestershire countryside. My father loved nothing better than taking his children, and usually a few other “hangers on”, out for long walks during which we would learn about the wildlife around us. We were brought up to treasure the environment and to love animals.
I have been a primary school teacher for a large chunk of my adult- life. Although not currently teaching I would not regard myself as retired and am constantly seeking new challenges whether paid or as a volunteer.
In recent years I have been a supply teacher, which can have its rewarding moments. However, I felt that this job was no longer for me. In conversation with a dear friend he told me of the various volunteering opportunities he had taken advantage of and it occurred to me that this could be a more life enhancing use of my time. As someone who loves animals, would like to continue to work with children and loves our zoo, my attention turned to volunteering at Chester Zoo. I thrive on new challenges and prefer to be active so helping the zoo and the public ticks many boxes for me. Furthermore, it offers sufficient flexibility for other challenges to be undertaken too.
It is always a little daunting when attempting something new and interacting with unfamiliar people. But, it was apparent right from that first gathering that this was going to be worthwhile and enjoyable. Learning about all of the animals will also command some effort – I would not describe myself as uneducated, but there is much to learn in order to give guests the best experience and to answer their questions. Of course, there are also physical demands, our English weather is nothing if not unpredictable and the locations we work in vary from the warmth of the butterfly house to the more exposed Islands zone.
Getting to know so much more about all of the animals is just wonderful. I have only been able to undertake one volunteering session but found the more experienced volunteers very helpful and friendly and look forward to making many new friends once the current crisis is over.
It can be frustrating to not know as much about the animals as you would like, but, I can organise myself to research and record information during these quiet times so there is always a silver lining.