Each individual has a different reason for volunteering – whether it’s to develop skills, meet new people or try something different. Below Josh tells his story and experiences of volunteering and why he wanted to get involved:
I just love animals! I studied animal care at college and really enjoyed it and I even got the ‘student of the year’ award. I am not afraid to say that I have Autism and used to find it difficult to be in large crowds with lots of noise. I wouldn’t talk to people. I really struggled at college and people were always telling me that because I couldn’t read and write very well I couldn’t do more courses and this made me feel sad. It destroyed my confidence and my dream to become an animal keeper.
When I was in high school I did a placement at an equine centre and it really got me interested in the animal care industry. After this I went to college to do animal care. During the first year of college I started off really quiet and shy and I started to change and get more confident. They gave me encouragement and when I got student of the year, the lady from the equine centre came to see me get my award, she was really proud. But after this I was told I couldn’t progress because I couldn’t get high enough grades, this made me feel lost, sad and I didn’t know what I could do next.
One of the Chester Zoo volunteers
I was so happy when I found out that I got a place on the volunteer training! On my first day of training I was very shy, all the other volunteers told me I had so much knowledge but I needed to build on my confidence. The really big moment for me was when I got up in front of the whole group of new volunteers, I was so nervous and I talked about sand lizards with no notes. I was shaking, stumbling on my words but I carried on to the end. Everyone clapped when I had finished and I had a huge smile on my face. This was the first time I had ever stood up in front of a group of people and gave a talk – I refused to do it in college!
My biggest challenge has been overcoming my confidence issues and believing in myself that I can do something amazing even though I have Autism. The best bits of volunteering is being around animals and being able to share my knowledge. I love talking to people about the animals here. I have also meet lots of great people and made lots of great friends.
As I am not working, volunteering has given me some structure to my days. It has given me lots more confidence in myself. There are a lot of things I can do now that I would never have been able to do. It’s given me a lot’s of knowledge and I have lots of new friends who all help and support me. Being in the zoo makes me feel happy. All the staff are really nice and are there to help if I need it. It’s changed my life. These are my three personal rules: always be happy no matter what, always follow your dreams no matter how challenging it may be and never give up.
If you’re considering volunteering at Chester Zoo, I would say go for it! It’s a lot of fun, it will help with your confidence and you will learn lots.