Meet the volunteers:
As part of out 'Meet the Volunteers' series we thought we'd start the ball rolling with our chair Kevin Stych.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m Kevin, I’m 40 years old (how did that happen?), and my full-time job is as a children’s social worker, mainly working with children in care in a quality assurance capacity these days; making sure others that are working with children are meeting requirements and minimum standards. I was born and raised locally; living on Long Nuke Road for the first 5 years of my life and then moved around the corner to Merritt’s Hill. I left at the age of 26 and moved to Bournemouth for university to study Social Work and ended up staying down there until 2019 when I moved back.
What made you want to volunteer?
I was raised to always think about giving back where I could but in the past, this had been sporadic, non-committal in the longer term, and when it suited me. I was fortunate enough to have been travelling around the world the last 5 years on and off, and Covid brought an end to all that. I returned to England and to Bartley Green/Northfield where I grew up and felt selfish that I had been investing everything mainly in myself rather than in others and started to think about what I could do.
On my return Covid meant I was tied to the computer at home for work more than ever, and it was hard to go from roaming the Earth to be stuck in a house. I was desperate to be more active, to be outside, to get my hands dirty, and do something more practical, and to connect with people. My work rarely sees major change in the short-term and I was desperate to do something practical where I could see an actual immediate difference and so began litter picking along Scotland Lane as a starting point.
How did it develop to becoming Friends of Bartley Reservoir and you being the chair?
The reservoir seemed a good place to initially focus my attention; I live just off Merritt’s Hill which is about a 1km from the farms before hitting the reservoir. I had walked and ran around it on and off over the years and the fact there didn’t seem to be anything made of the entire green spaces around the reservoir as a public space always baffled me. So, at the same time as litter picking, I set about trying to understand the land ownership of the area, the council departmental boundaries, and made enquiries with Severn Trent if they would permit a permissive pedestrian route around the reservoir’s perimeter for people to be able to legally walk a safe, full circular route around its edge.
At that time, around May 2021, I gave up a job and decided I would give some time to volunteering, instead of returning immediately to work. I had imagined a lot of free time with some volunteering on the side, but it quickly turned into full-time volunteering with some free time on the side. By this point I was learning so much about the reservoir’s surrounding green spaces and all the amazing heritage there and couldn’t believe I had lived nearby my whole life and had no clue what was there. I only entered the woods for the first-time last year, I had no clue about the meadows, or that there was a playing field.
Anyway, people didn’t seem to be coming on board to help with litter picking Scotland Lane despite advertising, and after entering the woods I noticed fly-tipping and thought ‘clearing this historical rubbish is something people will definitely get onboard with’ and they did! The real push towards making a committee was the Commonwealth Games Community Grants being made available. I had an idea to raise money for fingerposts to make the whole area more connected and make it seem like one coherent space despite the differing land ownership, and a requirement of applying for funds was to be a constituted committee with a bank account. Luckily, I found Portland and Eleanor who were excited about ‘the reservoir project’ and without whom I would have given up long ago. They agreed to come onboard so we could make the applications. It turned out to be way more complicated and lengthy applying for the grants, but we finally were given the grant of £15,000 for the signposts and benches.
What do you get out of volunteering; of giving your time in this way?
Good question! I really like the practical stuff like the litter picking and woodland management groups we set up; to be outdoors in nature, to be physical and get a bit of a sweat on and get the heart rate up; it all just feels right and good for me. It keeps me present, in the moment, and stops me thinking about all the other stuff. I really like meeting other people who are motivated to give their time and be out in nature to – you just naturally find like minded people in that way and its nice. Most of all, I like seeing the fruits of my labour at the end; the immediate impact of my effort, including bringing people together to do a task in the first place. As chair there is a lot of other stuff that takes time, but I enjoy the networking with other organisations, building relationships, learning new skills like making grant applications, and how to fundraise - all of which I’ve never done before. Where it does gets tough, the end result is usually the reward that makes up for it like with successes with the Commonwealth Grants and Severn Trent.
What would you say to anyone thinking about volunteering?
Do it of course! No seriously, volunteering is more than about the task you’re volunteering for; it’s priceless knowing that away from friends, family, status, money and assets, or lack thereof, and regardless of who you are or your abilities, that you are of value to your community and have something to contribute. It’s really rewarding in that sense and empowering to know you can effect changes in the area that you live that you and others enjoy and value. Also, we're essentially creating an entire new public space which is an amazing thing for us all to create together. and and incredible legacy to leave. I would also say there are so many other ways to volunteer, if you can’t physically do the practical tasks (or it’s just not your thing!); from designing and printing leaflets, to managing social media, organising an event from your desk, applying for grants, creating social events, or turning up to help dish out the teas and coffee – there’s so much that needs doing - and you are part of creating a community along the way too without even realising it.