Volunteer Stories: Ruth Yap
Ruth wanted a career change and found volunteering to be the perfect way to gain knowledge and experience in a new field (make that garden)
"I've been volunteering since October last year. Although I’ve been volunteering with the North Wales Wildlife Trust and the Snowdonia Society since summer last year. I actually started at Plas Newydd, although I had always wanted to volunteer at Penrhyn… so now I do both!
"I was working as a taxonomist for a private marine consultancy up until early last year. After 10 years hard work, it was really gut-wrenching when I had to leave after sustaining a repetitive strain injury. It was very painful and it meant that I couldn’t do any fine motor movement anymore. I was told to rest and not to use my arms and hands, but you can’t do much without your arms! I managed to go on lots of walks but it was very lonely. Then the physio suggested it would be good for me to keep fit by building up to manage bigger movements - which is how I got into gardening.
"I decided that I wanted a career change, I wanted to work outdoors and so I needed to gain experience. This was how I discovered volunteering and I thought, “Why didn’t I do this before!” It helped me get through an extremely difficult period. Volunteering has truly helped my mental health just as much as my physical health.
"Everyone has been so accommodating. For example, I can’t use secateurs for any great length of time at the moment but the garden teams make sure I’m looking after myself and they always find me something else to do. It gives me purpose!
"I think everyone should try volunteering, particularly if you’re feeling down or struggling with mental health. The National Trust gardens have played a significant role in my recovery. They’re so important to me, they have become a haven. It makes these places even more special. Somehow it’s all just worked out because now my volunteering has helped me get a job with the North Wales Wildlife Trust, as a warden for the Cemlyn Nature Reserve - so now I do that part-time and I volunteer part-time.
"I’m also finding new ways to use my skills as a marine biologist because with the Cemlyn reserve I also get to look at the marine life, and with the Wildlife Trust Living Seas team I also get to help people learn about marine creatures and conservation. The mix of conservation work and gardening is perfect, I love it and I’d be quite happy to do this forever!
" I love being by the sea and you don’t get that in many National Trust places outside North Wales. Penrhyn is quite unique in that way, with the sea, the mountains and the views - you’ve got everything here. "
"My inspiration to volunteer was just to get outside. It’s a huge contrast to work and how I felt back then. You know what it’s like when you get so down you don’t want to go out, and you find yourself getting closed off. But when I make a commitment I like to see it through. I hate letting people down and once I got going I never looked back. It’s actually addictive! I can’t stop doing stuff now but it has had such a positive impact. It’s given me so much confidence to do other things like Karate and Mandarin classes. It makes you feel like you have something to give back, but it’s also give and take - you have so much you can learn from each other.
"And you meet lovely, like-minded people. Everyone’s been so supportive and encouraging, even helping me with career advice and training. I’m actually quite emotional thinking about how supportive everyone is here. They’re all so generous with their time and knowledge – everyone is just so willing to share and they’re all really open about what you can get involved with.
"You also get a huge sense of community and teamwork, so yeah! I think everyone should do it – plus you get to go to really nice places. Even in the winter there’s a sense of real camaraderie when you’re all out there getting muddy together!
"It’s really satisfying… and I get a lot of happiness from it. I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t get joy from it. Everyone is on their own journey and everyone is trying to improve. We get to visit other properties and gardens and learn how they do things. I’ve been able to tag along with the gardeners when they’ve been meeting other teams. It’s so inclusive and you’re treated just the same as a paid gardener. There’s so much respect and you also get joy from helping each other and sharing your knowledge. There’s no competition – even among neighbouring properties. Everyone just helps each other out.
"The other thing about volunteering is that you just feel like you’re on holiday!
You get to see how much work goes into everything - the teams are a lot smaller than you’d think but there’s so much to do! It’s nice to be able to help out.
"Also, when I started, I didn’t realise that you got free National Trust entry and discounts and travel costs covered. I don’t claim but it’s really nice that the National Trust offers that support."
" I would recommend volunteering to everyone, even if you’re not looking for a new career or work experience. It’s had such an effect on my life… on my mental and physical health. All that stuff with work got me really down and now I feel completely different."