Here in the Aire Valley we have a great range of roles, and volunteers who do them! From bird surveyors to bloggers, all of our volunteers bring with them a wide variety of skills and knowledge, and we love to be able to use these very specific skill sets. Sometimes it even means creating a new role! 

We’ve been lucky enough to talk to two such volunteers as part of Volunteers Week 2020. 

Chris- Volunteer Programme Planner

"Hi, my name’s Chris.  I’m retired and about 3 years ago I wondered whether volunteering might be a good way to occupy some of my time usefully, whilst also giving something back. I’d been looking around for a while but couldn’t find a role that really excited me.  Someone had told me about RSPB St Aidan’s and one day I went for a walk there. I started bird watching for the first time since junior school and soon joined the RSPB. To be honest I did it to save on the cost of car parking!

I was still looking for the right volunteering role when suddenly, almost magically, I got an email telling me about a new volunteering role at RSPB Fairburn Ings. I applied to be a Volunteer Coordinator (this is a specialist role that you can find out more about in Janine’s blog) and did that role for about 2 years.

Then last summer I was sat on the balcony at Fairburn Ings having a chat with Jan, our Visitor Operations Manager, and we discussed all the exciting ideas we had for the future of both our Aire Valley sites.  These varied from quite small projects like creating a wildflower garden in front of the Visitor Centre at Fairburn to aspirations to create a new bespoke Learning Centre enabling us to improve and broaden our offering to schools (we would normally have about 3000 children visit with their schools each year but that is, like so many things, on hold with the coronavirus pandemic). 

These were just a couple of examples of more than a dozen potential projects we talked about.  But where to start?  It would be impossible to do everything at once and for the bigger, more complex projects they would take time, a lot of resources and we would need to get funding etc. We agreed we needed a plan and a way to establish some priorities.

From that discussion, over the next few months Jan and I agreed that we needed someone to develop and support the implementation of the plan.  So, I ‘agreed’ to give it a go and we have developed a new role as Volunteer Programme Planner. You might well ask ‘What does that mean?’ Well, with all the exciting things RSPB Aire Valley is planning to change in its visitor experience over the next few years I am going to help plan, manage, co-ordinate and hopefully deliver these exciting projects in a timely and practical approach and with as little disruption as possible along the way.

This will require a lot of help and support from the staff and other volunteers and we may well need to recruit more volunteers into specialist roles to help.  This could be people to help throughout the programme of works or to work on specific projects for a set period.  We will need people who are just prepared to ‘muck in’ and people with specialist skills and knowledge.  (If you are interested in volunteering as part of the team do get in touch with Janine.)

The reasons I am so excited to take on this new role are that it fills my original criteria of using my time usefully and giving something back but also it is flexible, uses some of my skills from when I worked for a living, is challenging (it will exercise my brain in ways it hasn’t experienced for years!) but above all it is a chance to make a real difference to the experience people get when they visit us. 

The moral of this story… be nice to visitors, they may want to save on car parking and end up getting into more than they ever could imagine."

Janine- Volunteer Coordinator

"In 2013 I took early retirement from a long career in the NHS and moved back to Leeds. After doing some work as a freelance here in Leeds and renovating a house, I knew I didn’t want to do paid work anymore, but also that I wanted to do ‘something’ and felt I wanted this to be a very different experience to my work life.

I’d been walking my dog and spending time at St Aidan’s for a long time and when the Visitor Centre opened and I saw the advert for volunteers; I thought ‘why not give it a try’. It was with some trepidation though, I had been an RSPB member for many years, but still consider myself very much a beginner birdwatcher. I needn’t have worried, I started as a Ranger and soon discovered how much everyone, staff, other volunteers, members of the public, wanted to help me to learn more. I love walking the nature park, still with my dog and now also helping others to enjoy the wonderful place that is St Aidan’s.

I also soon discovered and became intrigued by the team around me, a totally different passion and environment to my working career and yet, surprisingly so many things in common. So, when the Volunteer Coordinator role came up, I saw an opportunity to not only be more involved, but to maybe bring some experience and skills from my work life to the RSPB.

Truthfully retirement is great, but a huge challenge when you have worked full time all your life and, in my case, had a senior role with a lot of responsibility. I suddenly discovered that I had become invisible, as a mature woman; tell someone you're retired and watch them drift away to talk to someone else. I felt like I no longer knew how to define myself. Here I am then, having come into the RSPB thinking I wanted to get away completely from my previous work life, discovering that I get great pleasure in adapting my work experience to this new organisation and environment.

I have always loved being part of a team, enjoyed feeling like I have value to the organisation I’m in and to its purpose and I love organising! I enjoy feeling like I can contribute. I was proud of what I achieved there, so it's good to feel it's still got value. I also love the learning that comes from being part of the RSPB Aire Valley team, so far away from my career and full of such interesting, friendly and fun people.

It's good to feel that by doing this I'm still giving something back."

Volunteering is great, so please get in touch if you would like to find out more, even now while most of our volunteering is on hold. Email: