What am I doing here?
I wonder if this question, together with “Am I happy?” or “Are you happy?” is one of the most common.
I live in Petersfield. The South Downs National Park is a beautiful place in which to live, the National Trust cares for an amazing range of properties within the region and, perched high on the South Downs commanding an ever changing portfolio of spectacular panoramic views, Uppark House and Garden has to be one of the brightest jewels in an already stellar crown.
South Meadow, Uppark in Summer
Spring 2013. Question: why am I swapping all this door step beauty for a daily work menu of meetings and (worse) meetings about meetings, spread sheets, budgets, forecasts, more email and more meetings?
Answer: to put money in the bank and maintain our lifestyle, obviously; to save for the future, clearly; to make best use of my education and skills, hopefully.
All true, but I’m not sure that the corporate view is the most profound definition of the meaning of life ever propounded.
Summer 2013. Question: how often do I feel re-connected with the natural world, to the earth beneath my feet, to sunshine, wind and rain and to the beauty of my immediate surroundings?
Answer: Mmm, not very often.
Autumn 2013. Solution: explore some volunteer possibilities with the National Trust.
Above, Volunteer Archaeologists Sam and Jack uncover the circuit path network at Uppark, Summer 2013. Below, Scrub bashing briefing with the Countryside team at Ludshott and Selborne.
Great people, fantastic properties, lofty ideals.
Here, surely, is an opportunity to give something back to the community, re-engage with the natural world and get back in touch with a slice of the nation’s history. With four million members and well over 60,000 volunteers I’m sure the National Trust scores highly in brand recognition surveys but although a significant proportion of the population will (unwittingly or not) have visited at least one National Trust property in the past year or so, I don’t know what understanding of the Trust’s vast range of activities they possess. Similarly, although I have been a fairly regular visitor to Uppark and have spent a considerable amount of time working our own garden over the years, my perception of what joining the volunteer garden team would entail was somewhat hazy.
Above, Volunteering opportunities, below Hedge-laying around the woodland margins.
We’re all in it together, below Judy (left) and Jenny from the garden team during the wreath making workshop.
The enthusiasm, commitment and open-minded friendliness of the professional gardening team at Uppark (and at sister property, Hinton Ampner, where I also volunteer) was my over-riding first impression. This was quickly re-enforced by the corresponding qualities of the volunteer team whose knowledge of, and self-evident affection for, the garden in which they work combines with an extremely warm welcome to create an irresistible team spirit.
Any thoughts that volunteer gardener activities might be restricted to the dead-heading of a few roses and a bit of poking around with a border fork were immediately banished. Quite apart from the number of one off and seasonal events the garden team organised last year, and the number of exciting plans they already have in place for 2014, the days have gone something like this: “Ever done any hedge-laying? No? Well here’s your chance to have a go. Got any ideas on how we can best dress the stables to create an alluring Santa’s Christmas grotto for the children? OK, off you go then and can you lend a hand with the wreath-making course too, please? Tired of that? We’re creating a screen behind some yews we’re going to cut back in order to widen the lawn that borders the path to the main entrance of the house, would you like to lend a hand? Oh, and by the way if you want to come scrub bashing (what?) with the countryside team at Ludshott and Selborne this week (huge cakes, lots of tea and lunch-time barbeque provided on site) let us know asap…..”
Above, Santa at Uppark, and below, the garden team Christmas display 2013.
…..and so on. It’s quite amazing and completely different from anything I’ve done before. You have to remember that all this takes place against a backdrop of the imposing elegance of the house and the beauty of the surrounding garden, woodland and countryside. So, when I do eventually stand up straight, the rewards for working outside in the winter weather quickly overcome some of the associated discomforts.
Back to my original question then.
“What am I doing here?” Trying to make a difference.
“Am I happy?” Of course I am.
I know what I’m doing and I know why I’m doing it. That’s the difference.