What makes a volunteer?
I came to be involved with the Helston Railway through my then job. As part of the course I was delivering (Prince's Trust Team Programme) the students had an element consisting of a community based project. Helston Railway was one organization that had contacted us.
In 2008 I took my first group down to have a look at what was being proposed. Unfortunately the students weren't inspired by what they saw! So I had a conversation with the contact I had at the Helston Railway and we worked on some ideas so that the student response would be more positive.
In October 2009 the second group got involved – cutting back rhododendrons and brush opposite what would eventually become the Trevarno Platform!
The students enjoyed the experience, and gave me feedback to give to the railway for potential future groups.
From this began a mutually beneficial partnership, which on advice form one of the groups of students, became a standard part of the course – one day per week volunteering on the railway.
In the end I had about 8 groups (approximately 80 students) visit and volunteer on different aspects of the railway; undertaking tasks ranging from brush bashing, laying paths, rolling stock restoration, to helping lay track. To see a bunch of "worldly wise" teenagers in stunned silence after meeting Ray the Permanent Way Manger was unforgettable!
From a teaching point of view, the transferable and employability skills the students developed whilst volunteering here were immeasurable; and I believe the volunteers at the railway also learnt from the experience.
In 2013 my involvement changed as I was made redundant, so I continued volunteering in my own right; working primarily on the permanent way side, where the real hard graft is undertaken – but I would also say the most laughter and banter. A lot is said about Ray's leadership of the permanent way team, and its all true! But it is the best part of the railway, we laugh a lot but we work very hard.
I have also learnt a lot of new skills whilst volunteering and the skills and experience I have are valued as we all have a common goal – to restore the branch line. I have learnt how to drive a train, I get to work in some stunning country side with people who I may not have met in other walks of life; I am learning all the time as people are willing to share their experiences and knowledge.
A few months ago I bumped into a former student of mine, who had been down the railway with me as part of his course, he was there about 5 years ago. After a quick chat to me he went on to tell his colleagues about the opportunity I had given him to come and work at the railway and what a great experience it was – for me that speaks volumes.
If you are thinking about volunteering, then please do! It's not just about trains (though we are a railway!), there's the shop, the buffet, you can get involved in any aspect of what the railway does and it is really worth while, and the social side if good too.
I joined as a member back in 2014 but only started work as a volunteer in January this year - 2016.
I am a "general volunteer" and so turn up once a week - either on a Tuesday or Thursday - whatever suits me. I do not have any specific skills - but that doesn't matter as there is plenty of work for everyone.
I get to the Railway at 9am - earlier if there are jobs to finish before the visitors arrive. There is a board that lists the jobs that need to be done - but if there is a Committee Member around I ask them what is the priority for the day.
Most interesting is the Track Crew which works every Tuesday when there are no visitor trains running. Ray - the Team Leader - has decades of experience on laying track - and so he organizes everything and I lend a hand whenever and wherever he asks me.
And now it is full steam ahead to get the Truthall Halt project finished on time. I have been busy clearing the undergrowth and, more recently, extending the track to the platform.
Tremendous fun - and excellent company - I can highly recommend it.