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Jobs from the Reach files - 4

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In this regular series Olive Braman tells how volunteers can use their skills and expertise through REACH, the charity that places professional and business people in part time voluntary jobs

You can find all the Jobs From the REACH Files articles from the Volunteering Index


Remember that report revealing how city children don't know their oak trees from their apples, and think that elephants roam wild in the UK? Shirley Barlow, from Watford, Hertfordshire, is doing her bit to change the situation. She is a volunteer guide for the Country Trust, and her job is to introduce parties of children from inner city schools to rural life through their visits to farms and country parks.

Shirley was headteacher of a primary school when arthritis forced her early retirement when in her late fifties. She was, she says, devastated. She decided that salvation lay in finding some way in which she could continue to work with children. She found it through the help of the charity REACH.

It was no surprise for Shirley to find the children responding just as the recent report stated. "Many were not at all keen on the smells they encountered, or the silence, and some really do not know that milk comes from cows. One small boy was appalled when he asked me what cowpats were. When I told him, he said, `Why don’t they use the toilet?’ "

None of this fazes Shirley. "The children are delightful and sharing their innocence and pleasure is like the best part of teaching," she says. "The best way to correct any ignorance is to be funny…"

Shirley’s groups can range from fifteen to thirty children and their teacher. Her job is to guide the group, to ensure their safety and to make sure that they are given information appropriate for their age range. For many of the children, it will be their only experience of the countryside and of large open spaces.

The Country Trust was founded 22 years ago. It is a national educational registered charity running a simple, cost effective, and apparently unique scheme, taking deprived inner city children to the nearby countryside. Children throughout England take part in day long or week long expeditions. They are often given access to places which are not normally open to the public. Through their visits to farms, country parks, market gardens, and woodlands, they learn about rural life and about ways to sustain and care for the environment.

We have many REACH volunteers working for us," says Rodney Stanford, who helped found the Trust and has been its Director from the beginning ."They come from different occupations and different walks of life, their ages range from 50 to 78. They come from all parts of England.

"To visit a farm and handle the animals, to walk through a forest, a heronry, or over a moor; to see cows milked and calves born, all this has a profound effect on these youngsters and gives them lasting experiences which they remember all their lives."

More than 125,000 children have taken part in Country Trust visits with the assistance of volunteers like Shirley. " I think it is a marvellous thing for me as well as them," she says. "The visits are meticulously organised and they bring great pleasure to everyone involved. I could not have found any voluntary work that could be more rewarding than this."

For further information about the Country Trust, telephone Rodney Stanford on 01728 604818. They do not have a website.

REACH tel 020 7582 6543. email: website:

Look out for future features from Olive Braman on Jobs From The REACH Files or view all the REACH Files Articles from our Volunteering Index


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