Why I volunteer, by Richard Hardy
Volunteer tour guide, Bembridge Fort
Volunteer guide Richard Hardy explains why he finds voluteering at Bembridge Fort such a rewarding role.
Sixteen years ago, the National Trust had an advertisement in the local newspaper: more volunteers were needed at Newtown National Nature Reserve. I didn't hesitate to apply. This job would allow me to support the Trust in a practical way in a place I had often enjoyed, both ashore and afloat. And so my volunteer journey began. Manning the hide once a week revitalised a boyhood interest in ornithology and I enjoyed sharing the local and natural history of the place with visitors.
Trying something new
I never tired of the role. However, after seven years another fascinating opportunity arose: guiding tours of Bembridge Fort. Once again, my familiarity with the location, Culver and Bembridge Downs, made this an appealing prospect. Moreover, having grown up surrounded by relics and reminders of the Second World War, I have always had an interest in military things, not least fortifications. The job was too good to miss.
" Gaining fresh knowledge has been very rewarding, and there is always more to learn....and sharing knowledge with our visitors and like-minded colleagues is always satisfying. "
Over the course of a decade, the fort’s voluntary clearance team has achieved remarkable progress. A place that was once abandoned, derelict and full of debris and rubbish, has been made increasingly accessible. Visitors are shown examples of all the fort’s main nineteenth century features and we look at important and interesting reminders of the work undertaken by all three armed services during the Second World War.
As guides, we receive many positive reactions from visitors to the fort. Access is not generally allowed so the tours, which explain the purpose and history of the building, satisfy the curiosity created by the mysterious exterior. There is always excitement when descending a steep stairway in total darkness and being guided along seemingly endless passages to emerge into open fighting positions. Climbing to the main gun positions on the top of the fort is rewarded with spectacular views to all points of the compass, and for those interested, there is also a rich variety of flora.
For anyone who has, or is keen to acquire, suitable knowledge or experience, I can honestly say that volunteering at Bembridge Fort will be a richly rewarding, fun and satisfying experience.
" Bembridge Fort is a fascinating place. There's military and local history but it's also a wonderful location for nature and wildlife as well."