On 14 April 1995, after years of initial development, RSPB Conwy nature reserve opened it's gates to the public. Throughout April, we want to commemorate this milestone, and celebrate our 25th anniversary with you! As part of this celebration, we will be sharing what RSPB Conwy means to the people at the heart of the reserve - our fantastic staff (both past and present), and our amazing volunteers. Each blog has been written by various members of our team, as they share with us what RSPB Conwy means to them. We hope that you will enjoy these unique insights, and join us in celebrating 25 years of giving nature a home!

 Jon Ward - Catering Manager

I was asked to write a blog about my time at RSPB Conwy and what it means to me, I found this difficult as it holds many different memories for me. After much soul searching I decided to write about the one thing that has been a constant in my life since my teenage years, my mental health, the following blog is very honest and open, and I hope that it will encourage others to be open about their mental health too. It is not something that should be “brushed under the carpet.”

So here goes…

I fell, and I fell big time. I had lost my job as a chef due to the seasonality of the work, and mentally I was struggling. I then asked if I could volunteer on my local RSPB reserve and, as I live on Anglesey, they gave me the choice of South Stack or Conwy. I chose Conwy.

Conwy gave me stability and some sense of purpose. Julian Hughes (who was site manager at the time), also gave me plenty of work and at last I felt somewhat whole.

As I mentioned before I am a trained chef, and when the opportunity came up for a catering assistant on the reserve I jumped at the chance.  Three days per week paid and I could also volunteer for the other two.

It was then that South Stack advertised for a catering manager, and I applied for the role. I will always remember the words of encouragement I got from Angela (the retail manager at the time) the day before the interview, and I am sure they helped. I got the job at South Stack and spent three and a half happy years there.

It was at this point that my greed and opportunism got in the way slightly and I left South Stack for another catering role, within the charity sector. Not long after this my depression took hold again, and with some ferocity. These were the darkest times I have ever known.

I begged not to be institutionalised and with my fantastic wife by my side I slowly picked myself up and took a couple of jobs locally, things seemed to be on the up again.

I will always remember the night, sat watching television, when I received a message from a volunteer at Conwy to say that they where looking for a catering manager. This was my chance to return to the place that got me out of a similar position before. I (obviously) got the job and I was stoked.

 I have now been at Conwy for 4 years I am not going to say it has been easy because it hasn’t. I am not going to say that my issues have gone because they haven’t. But Conwy helped me out at the start, and Conwy and the RSPB are helping me out now.

So, what does RSPB Conwy mean to me? It’s the massive family of staff and volunteers that are there for everyone through thick and thin. Conwy RSPB does not only give nature a home, it gave me a home when all else seemed lost.

So here’s to the next 25 years!