When the going is tough, having a community that comes alongside – ready to get down and dirty – can make all the difference, as a Livability service in Dorset discovered recently.
Livability’s wellbeing discovery centre at Holton Lee is on an outstanding, 300-acre nature reserve, criss-crossed with hedges, ditches and paths. The site’s utility vehicle is in use every day, so when it was stolen one night, the Holton Lee community were bereft. ‘It was our primary means of moving equipment, materials and even furniture for our holiday cottages around the expansive site,’ says director Neil Stevens.
As well as the shock of a burglary, Livability Holton Lee was set to struggle with the ongoing schedule with clear-up work and preparation for a spring rise in visitors. Holton Lee is an important part of the local community, offering tranquil walks with accessible trails for wheelchair users, nature and conservation work, art workshops and Flourish, a horticultural therapy programme for people with a wide range of needs. Every month, hundreds of people benefit from this beautiful site – which relies on constant maintenance.
Enter Bournemouth and Poole Boot Camp and their founder, Ian Duffy, who encountered Livabiltiy Holton Lee through a local business network group. ‘I first visited Holton Lee a couple of years ago, and the reason I think they’re so great is that they help people to do more than they think they can. It’s a very inclusive place and they increase people’s confidence.’
Ex-serviceman Ian offered the Boot Camp’s volunteers, who combine gaining fitness with community service, for a morning’s work on Holton Lee’s land, where the 40-strong group cut hedges, filled potholes and lopped bushes. Boot Camp members range from six to 72 years and Ian found that Livability’s mission to break down barriers and connect people with their community resonated strongly with him and the group.
Like Livability, Ian sees getting active as one of the five steps to wellbeing, and doing that with others means creating something more than physical fitness. ‘It’s not about the body beautiful, it’s about engaging and creating community – there are just far too many lonely people out there,’ he says. ‘So if we can get people exercising together, having a laugh, putting smiles on people’s faces, I just love that, and Holton Lee works along the same lines.’
When Ian heard about the vehicle theft, he was ‘absolutely disgusted’ and contacted Holton Lee to see if Boot Camp could help again. The team turned up on a Sunday, and on Monday morning, the Holton Lee community was cheered to arrive and find the site looking spruce, after the volunteers put in a morning of ditch-digging, hedge-trimming and moving fallen trees. ‘And we went for lunch at the pub afterwards,’ says Ian.
This practical and thoughtful support has meant a great deal to everyone at Livabiltiy Holton Lee. ‘We feel supported and cared about and this work was so valuable because, with a site like Holton Lee, the maintenance tasks never finish,’ Neil explains. ‘The Boot Camp volunteers looked at what they had – people and energy – and offered that as a contribution to the community.’
Everyone contributing, in whatever way they can, is what makes community all add up at Holton Lee, Neil finds: ‘It’s about everyone doing their bit that visibly demonstrates that we all need each other. We have a weekly conservation group that works on the heathland, birdwatchers fill the feeders and keep that area of the grounds tidy, Flourish participants are maintaining the growing gardens and producing items for sale, walkers let us know if branches have fallen or bridges need repairing – and groups like the Boot Camp bring their fresh energy and physical strength to do work that we might otherwise find too daunting to achieve in the time available.’
For Neil, this has demonstrated the power of community to connect people and counter what had been a setback: ‘Ian and his volunteers have built a sense of mutual support. It shows we all have something to offer and that friendships and connections can be built from seemingly the most unlikely of starting points.’
[thrive_link color=’orange’ link=’https://holtonlee.org/’ target=’_self’ size=’medium’ align=’aligncenter’]Find out more about Livability Holton Lee.[/thrive_link]