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Volunteering at Great Chalfield Manor

Flower border beside a stone path with the Well Court behind at Great Chalfield Manor, Wiltshire
Flower border at Great Chalfield Manor | © National Trust Images/Carole Drake

When Jennifer Connor decided it was time for a career change, she wanted to find a place to hone her skills and so applied to become a garden volunteer at Great Chalfield for a summer – but then stayed on. Little did she know it would lay the groundwork for securing a place on the highly regarded Historic & Botanic Garden Training Programme. Find out more about Jennifer’s inspirational volunteering story.

Enacting a career change

It may sound naive, but I didn't even know volunteering at the National Trust was 'a thing'.

Having decided to change careers from marketing to horticulture, I was pursuing an RHS Level 2 Diploma and looking for somewhere to spend my summer, to apply what I'd been studying.

All I knew was that Great Chalfield was lovely, the team were lovely, and I knew I could learn a lot from them.

Lots to learn and lots to do

I quickly realised that not only was I right, there was far more to grasp than I originally thought.

Patsy had a talent for plant combinations, colour and texture, while Neil was a master of the practical side of gardening.

Suddenly, a summer seemed far too short. I wanted to witness all the seasons, and all the different activities that came with them.

And I'm so lucky that I did, because for the time that I gave to the gardens at Great Chalfield – it's given back to me tenfold.

The stable border in bloom at Great Chalfield Manor, Wiltshire
The stable border in bloom at Great Chalfield Manor | © National Trust Images/Carole Drake

Part of a team

Firstly, I was treated as part of the team from day one. Every task was explained and demonstrated.

I was also encouraged to explore areas that interested me, such as researching planting options for a new bed and different propagation techniques. They even trusted me to organise a volunteer outreach day.

The next step

Each day at Great Chalfield, I’ve increased my knowledge. Yet I didn't grasp just how much I'd learned until I applied for the Historic and Botanic Garden Training Programme (

This national scheme offers two-year placements for 10 budding horticulturalists each year. Standards and competition are always high.

After a lengthy application process, practical assessments and interviews, I was overjoyed to be selected for a two-year placement at Stourhead.

I felt so privileged and fortunate to be able to continue my learning and also take another huge step towards my chosen career.

Volunteering is worth it

So I'm here to say that volunteering is worth it.

For me, it's given me valuable skills and allowed me to apply my studies in the real world.

Most importantly, my time at Great Chalfield has given me confidence in myself.

Why join us?

There are lots of reasons to join us; making the move to volunteer could be the best decision you ever make.

  • Become part of a friendly and dedicated team
  • Meet people from all walks of life and forge new friendships
  • Utilise your existing skills and learn new ones
  • Strengthen your CV and help to develop your career
  • Enjoy the great outdoors
  • Learn about the history of this special place.

Thank you

Thank you to all our volunteers who give their time to support the National Trust in many different roles.

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