My life changing volunteering at St Werburgh’s City Farm

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Jasmine Tidswell talks about her journey to studying Wildlife Ecology and Conservation Science at UWE Bristol

Vegetables prepared in a bowl from the farm

This volunteering experience was life changing for me for a number of reasons.

I moved to Bristol from London in June 2020 just after the first national lockdown to enrol in the Environmental Science Access course at City of Bristol College. My plan was to go on to study Conservation and Ecology at UWE which I am now doing.

Moving to a new city amidst a global pandemic with social gathering very restricted left me feeling isolated and unsure how to find a sense of community in an unfamiliar place. Volunteering at the farm and being welcomed into their vast and diverse community helped me find a sense of belonging.

During my volunteering period, I had a mentor, a member of staff who directed and assisted me in my tasks, he was also very focused on my personal wellbeing and helped to support me through a very difficult time as I lost two friends to suicide in January 2021, without this space to talk freely, work with my hands and benefit from the peaceful nature at the site I would not have coped as well as I did. 

I spent four hours every week helping with various jobs around the farm from labour intensive tasks, such as mucking out the animals, to organisational tasks, like ensuring that wheelchair users had good access around the site.

It was important to ensure the farm remained a clean and safe environment for visitors and neighbours.  I organised the composting piles, ensuring the usable compost is accessible for use throughout the farm to fertilise the food growing beds. These are used by various volunteer groups including adults with learning and physical disabilities and children so the compost pile needs to be safe and accessible.  

I also helped medicate a sick ram. It takes plenty of hands to keep a ram calm and still whilst medicating it, unfortunately, the ram passed away as the condition was too severe.  In the Spring, four lambs were born who had been fathered by the ram, having the opportunity to connect naturally to the circle of life and death puts everything into perspective.

I would sew seeds, weed vegetable beds and clean seed trays for the plant nursery ‘Propagation Place’. This allowed the plant nursery managers to spend more time leading more enriching activities with other volunteer groups who are often referred to Propagation Place to improve their mental wellbeing.  In the summer I helped to run a BBQ in the summer, using some of the harvested crops from Propagation Place to make a range of dishes to offer to the volunteers referred through the mental health charity MIND.

I found working with other volunteers and hearing about the challenges in their lives to be thought provoking and heart warming as the sense of support and community that was built by working together and listening to each other was uplifting. I learnt a multitude of new skills and knowledge about animal care, seed sewing, crop harvesting.

Towards the end of my volunteer programme, I heard that Propagation Place were hiring plant nursery assistants though the Kickstarter Scheme, as I was eligible I applied, keen to remain at the farm and further my skills and connections there, I was successful and completed a 6 month contract for them from April to October 2021 where I learned a lot about propagating plants as well as sustainable horticultural practices & completed first aid training. I still work odd days at the farm, helping with the animals, site maintenance, and in the office providing support to the new kickstart workers. 

I began as a volunteer, I progressed as a staff member, and I intend to use the skills and connection that I am gaining at university to become a lifelong advocate for the farm. 

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