BLOG: The Value of Volunteering

6 November 2020

As part of Week 2 of Greater Manchester Tree Month, Bethany Jayesinghe, one of ‘GM’s green heroes’, shares her experiences of volunteering with City of Trees.

Hello! My name is Bethany Jayesinghe and I am a twenty-year-old student studying Environmental Management at the University of Manchester.

It is through my university and its optional placement module that I wound up volunteering for City of Trees, working with them twice a week. I always say it was one of the best choices I made in second year! When applying for various placements in order to complete the module, City of Trees was an organisation that stuck out to me due to their social outreach. The more I looked through their website, the more I became intrigued in their mission: to plant a tree for every person in Manchester! An ambitious but very important goal if you ask me (but I might be biased based on my degree.)

As a student volunteer, my experience with City of Trees was different from their usual volunteers in the sense that I saw more of the behind the scenes action. Let me tell you, a lot of hard work and preparation goes into their events in order to ensure they run as smoothly as possible. Studying at university, it can be easy to get lost behind the lectures and all the reading. For me especially, volunteering provided me with on-the-ground knowledge of the public aspect of the industry that I otherwise would not have known. One of the main benefits of volunteering, especially with events that City of Trees do, is that it gets you out of the house and amongst nature.

However, after volunteering for just under three months I can safely say the main reason I would keep going back, even if I was not on a placement, would be the self-satisfaction you get. Often, when talking to volunteers at the woodland management events, I would hear comments from local residents at how pleasantly surprised they were with the improvements being made to their local parks and pathways. Not only do their events result in people mingling both with each other and nature, they also have a sustainable impact that can be clearly seen.

When I was eight, my dad’s work moved my family and I to China. Growing up in the city of Guangzhou (close to Hong Kong), I truly experienced the concept of a concrete jungle. Arguably, this is what pushed me to pursue a career in Environmental Management and made my appreciation for trees and nature that much more amplified when I came back to the UK. Further learning about the devastation that deforestation can bring, whilst studying for my degree, only made the importance of having trees within built environments that much more pronounced. During this pandemic, with lockdowns and minimal movement, I am sure most people’s appreciation for the nature and the outdoors has massively increased as well. Sitting in my apartment back home, I would find myself missing the tree planting events even more (when you get the volunteering bug, I don’t think it ever truly leaves you). Being amongst nature, breathing in the fresh air provided by all the trees, your mind starts to clear and your worries seem to fade. Right there in that moment, when you are planting a tree, that is all you have to think about.

The environment and its protection have always had a special place in my heart, but it was learning about the consequences of anthropogenic climate change that ignited this passion in me to be part of the change that combats this problem. Volunteering provided me with an outlet for this, pushing me out of my comfort zone, physically and mentally. One of the great things about City of Trees is that their volunteering activities are available for all ages and sizes, regardless of physical health. But the benefits to my mental health, that I experienced, truly surprised me. It’s the feeling of knowing that you are helping the environment and having an impact. It’s the feeling of being able to plant a tree and feel like you are leaving some sort of legacy behind. It’s the feeling of interacting with people who you might have never met if not for these events. That’s why you should go to their events!

The work that City of Trees does can often go unnoticed. They work tirelessly to make sure that their events are sustainable and contribute to the environment in a positive way. Each member of their team is dedicated to making Greater Manchester more resilient to climate change and improving the health of the county. They work on trying to improve what is already there and to appreciate whatever nature can provide. Attending their events, you are always met with warm smiles and enthusiastic people radiating their love for the environment.

So, if you have time, go down and try volunteering with City of Trees, I promise you won’t regret it!

Due to Coronavirus our Citizen Forester volunteering is on hold but we hope to re-start in the New Year. In the meantime check out our digital events from yoga to mindfulness. You can also sign up to our newsletter to hear about the latest events and updates.