Keeley Hensby

Volunteer Management Trainee, White Cliffs and Fan Bay Deep Shelter

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Keeley Hensby - Volunteer Management Trainee

Keeley Hensby, 25, is a Volunteer Management Trainee based at The White Cliffs of Dover in Kent. She talks to us about the benefits of a good support network and how her mentor has helped her to make the most of her traineeship.

Volunteer Management Trainee, Keeley Hensby with volunteers at Fan Bay

What were you doing before the traineeship?

I volunteered quite a bit with Help for Heroes before university, and then went on to study a degree in Events Management.

I’m really into horse riding, so I've also volunteered at the Olympia and Windsor Horse of the Year shows. The year I volunteered at Windsor, was also the year they filmed all the Queen's horses for the Queen's Jubilee, so this was quite an intense volunteering experience, working with people from all over the world.

What drew you to applying for the traineeship?

The National Trust is an organisation that I’ve always wanted to work for, but also the qualification offered was a big draw for me. 

I’d worked as a volunteer coordinator before, so I knew I enjoyed it, but didn’t feel I had enough knowledge in the area. I was hoping the traineeship would help me find out if Volunteer Management was right for me, and to help me build confidence in this area. 

What was it like working with the volunteers?

There was a lot to learn really early on and I think I just chucked myself in, so the volunteers supported me more for doing that. The first month I was here, I spent most of the time coming home covered in chalk and it was fantastic! 

Hearing about the different reasons volunteers were involved really made the project come alive for me, and it was obvious to see Fan Bay was an extraordinary place. Everyone had some emotional attachment to the area – whether it was a family member who had been here in the war, or a connection to the ships that crossed the Channel.

Nearly all of the volunteers had so much more knowledge than I did, but they supported me. They are such a fantastic team, and they have really built my confidence up, more than they can know. 

Part of your traineeship involved having a mentor, how did you find that experience?

My mentor was Richard Haynes, a Project Manager for the Up on the Downs scheme (a project in partnership with the National Trust). Richard was a fantastic mentor, someone that gets straight to the point – in a good way. 

There are times in any job when you might have frustrations, and think, ‘why doesn’t that work?’ Taking that problem to a mentor in a safe space meant that I could talk it through and outline my thinking, which helped me find a solution. 

Richard was also really good at pushing me to engage on a community level. Up on the Downs has a big community festival, so I went with my General Manager to represent the National Trust. It was a great chance to talk to people about what we are doing, and I actually sold my first membership too. It was an important experience because for me, the National Trust is about more than encouraging people to join, it’s about being a part of local communities.

Having benefitted from mentoring yourself, do you think it’s something you have brought into your projects for volunteers?

Yes, I’ve tried to bring this into the induction process with the Fan Bay volunteers. I try to assign a buddy or a mentor to every new volunteer, and that’s something I want to champion and push more for because I definitely think there is something to be said for that style of mentoring. 

In your role, what have you been doing to support volunteers?

One of the things that became apparent when I first started was how separate each of the volunteer groups seemed. We have countryside, lighthouse, Winchelsea and Fan Bay volunteers, as well as volunteers in retail, car parking and those who organise the annual plant fair. 

It’s so diverse, and with everyone working in different sections, it was quite hard to build the sense that they are all working towards one cause. I’ve been putting together case studies from volunteers about their roles to make everyone aware of what different people are working on. I think this makes the volunteers proud of each other, which is the start to a good volunteer journey.

What do you love most about being a Volunteer Manager here?

It sounds silly, but sometimes it could just be those days where things go right and someone just says thank you, or steps in and does something that makes you go ‘Wow’.

Sometimes working in this sector can be quite hard graft, but when you see a new volunteer that you have recruited and supported, receiving a lovely comment from a visitor about their work, you think, wow! They’ve got it, they understand and believe in this and they are invested in our cause. That’s why this project, managing Fan Bay volunteers, is the best thing I’ve done.