Elise Brewerton talks to a group of volunteers who make sure a much-loved country park is ship-shape for hundreds of visitors – come rain, wind or snow.
It is not often you see someone derive so much enjoyment from mending a fence.
But it is clear from the laughter and joy on the faces of the volunteers at Staunton Country Park that they love every minute of it.
The group, known as the Staunton Stars, meets each week at the Leigh Park estate to mend fences, sweep leaves, muck out the farm animals and clear paths.
Come wind, rain or snow, they do a vital job and won’t be put off from picking up their tools and going to work.
In fact, the 15 stars do the work of two full-time paid employees each month, saving Staunton a fair bit of money.
Each of the volunteers has a different reason for volunteering through the organisation Solent Youth Action (SYA).
Some have learning difficulties, some have mental health issues and some are young people who are unable to find a place of work or training.
But, for each of them, working at the country park gives them a sense of purpose and teaches them some important life skills.
Paul Oakes, 23, from Gosport, is one of the longest-serving volunteers at Staunton.
He said: ‘I wanted to do volunteering to get me out of the house and meet new people. I’ve been coming here for five years.
‘There is so much to do, you’re always busy.
‘You’re never standing around doing nothing.
‘Visitors come and chat to us and ask us where certain things are. Because I’ve been here so long I know where everything is so I can answer any question.
‘I’ve learned lots of new skills, especially customer service, teamwork, back up and patience. You need a lot of patience here.’
In an echo of comments from other volunteers, Paul says being a Staunton Star has brought him out of his shell.
He said: ‘I never used to be this open. You open up with people you work with, and talk about your feelings. I’ve made a lot of friends, that’s for certain.’
Staunton Stars was founded in 2008 to give people experience in construction, horticulture, DIY and animal care around the park.
Under the direction of the garden, farm, maintenance and rangers teams the volunteers gain transferable work-based skills, increase their social activities and contribute to their local community with the support of an SYA officer.
James Adams, 22, has proved so helpful that he has been given a job at Staunton at the weekend, litter picking.
He said: ‘We clean up the park and if anything gets run-down we help with repairs. I like to see the faces of the smiling children when they come round, especially when they jump in all the puddles. The best thing is getting out of the house. I’ve been volunteering here for three years now.’
All the volunteers get stuck in with mucking out the animals and making sure Staunton is clean and safe for the 200 daily visitors.
It is work that staff would not have time to complete themselves, or at least not as quickly.
Last year SYA was joined by Right to Work, an organisation which supports older people with learning disabilities.
Kailea Hurcombe, from SYA, said: ‘Our volunteers learn first aid, manual handling skills and how to use tools. All these skills are transferable.
‘They build up their confidence and some are able to work part-time as a result.’
Staunton’s operations manager Steve Jenner said the volunteers are pivotal to the success of the Hampshire County Council-run country park.
‘The stars have been aptly named as they are just that,’ he said.
‘Week in, week out, through rain, shine and even snow, they turn up full of energy and enthusiasm for the day’s work.
‘The group work in all areas of the park and carry out tasks for each of the teams at Staunton.
‘Aside from the regular grounds maintenance jobs they undertake such as leaf raking, sweeping and muck picking, the group are regularly requested by the park’s staff to help undertake specific projects.
‘They also bid for grants to improve the park and last year the group received some funding to make improvements to some of the paths in Leigh Park Gardens.
‘The funding also allowed the Stars to receive additional training and learn new skills.
‘They have become an very important part of running the park and it’s fair to say we could not achieve the things we do without them.’
To volunteer call Solent Youth Action on (023) 8065 0514 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.