Volunteers get growing role with National Trust

Julie Charlesworth in the garden at Chastleton House. Picture: John Hackston

Julie Charlesworth in the garden at Chastleton House. Picture: John Hackston

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THE National Trust relies on an army of 67,000 volunteers to ensure the smooth running of its properties and is looking for more.

They take on a variety of roles, from helping to look after historic houses and landscapes, welcoming visitors and fundraising, to behind-the-scenes administrative roles.

Among them is Witney academic Julie Charlesworth, whose life took a new direction when she became a garden volunteer at Chastleton House, near Chipping Norton.

With a varied career in social sciences and management, including research and lecturing, Julie, 48, decided that she wanted to do something completely different.

“I had been working for the Open University, but I went part-time for a year while I decided what I wanted to do,” she said.

Her mother’s volunteering role with the Women’s Royal Voluntary Service prompted Ms Charlesworth to research volunteering, and write a course based on it.

“My mum volunteered for many years with the WRVS,” she said.

“She had worked as a cashier, but her voluntary role organising Meals on Wheels changed her overnight. She had status, responsibility and an interest, as well as new friends. The commitment of her and her friends, who also volunteered, was incredible.”

After leaving her full-time job, Ms Charlesworth decided she wanted to do something connected to heritage and historic gardens.

Searching on a volunteering website, she saw that Chastleton House had just appointed a full-time gardener and that she was looking for volunteers to help her.

She said: “I was one of the first garden volunteers at Chastleton and I started off, one day a week, doing the gardening.

“Then they realised that my background in lecturing and presenting made me ideal to run garden tours, and now I also co-ordinate the other gardening volunteers.

“It’s really interesting working with volunteers, recruiting new ones and inducting them. There are about 30. We’re a good team.”

She added: “I do a lot of voluntary administration work from home too, and I have helped organise special events and exhibitions.

“Chastleton has 180 volunteers and seven staff. The National Trust couldn’t function without its volunteers. I’m committed and will carry on. I love it.”

For more information about volunteering at Chastleton House and other National Trust sites, see nationaltrust.org.uk/get-involved/ volunteer/

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