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Case Study: South Dorset Ridgeway Landscape Partnership

Title: South Dorset Ridgeway Landscape Partnership

Category: Landscapes for People, Landscapes for Culture
AONB: Dorset

 

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Overview

Jill Hearing was with the South Dorset Ridgeway Landscape Partnership from the start, originally as the Project Support & Grants Officer, but as time progressed she took on more and more responsibility to help ensure that the partnership was an outstanding success.  By the end of the scheme, not only was she coordinating volunteer efforts, but also establishing new traditions celebrating the area’s cultural past and managing significant areas of delivery, while still performing as the support officer.  It was a brilliant and sustained effort over five years that resulted in targets being smashed, volunteers being overjoyed, new partnerships being created and sustained, and the quarterly claims being accurate, amply supported with evidence and paid in full.

What was done

Jill started with the South Dorset Ridgeway Landscape Partnership in 2013 as the Project & Grants Support Officer, with the unenviable task of pulling together the 21 reports and claims to the Heritage Lottery Fund for this ambitious £3 million scheme.  This was done without fail, on time and to budget (which is no mean feat) … but actually it’s what else Jill did that really stands out.

The opportunity to take on the volunteer coordinator role came up two years into the scheme, with targets at risk of being missed.  Not only did Jill take this role on, but she exceeded all expectations when it came to delivery.  She took a flagging element of the scheme and revitalised it, ensuring that:

  • volunteers were trained and supported to carry out surveys of the natural and historic environment so that information held by Dorset Environmental Records Centre and Historic England could be updated to inform conservation;
  • volunteer work parties cleared scrub on scheduled monuments and areas of priority habitat, and supported village projects to improve biodiversity in community areas;
  • key landscape features were restored, including dry stone walls and hedgerows, training volunteers in the process and enhancing landscape and biodiversity.

The greatest compliment to Jill is that during the final project evaluation, volunteers were asked “what could have been done differently to improve the volunteer experience?”.  Answers reinforced the theme that there were no real improvements to be made, with many people acknowledging how well organised the volunteering had been:

“None, everything was wonderful and well organised”

“No, it was well organised and enjoyable, even in bad weather. The administration was faultless.”

‘Jill’s co-ordination of the project – fab!  A great welcome for everyone, she got to know everyone personally – and great cake!’

Working on the Wallathon on a brutally hot day, Jill drove up the track with a cool box full of ice lollies – a stroke of genius.”

But it’s not only the more traditional volunteering tasks that Jill ensured were a success.  She was also involved in a whole range of opportunities, including the Ridgeway Singers and Band.  This group were formed by Artsreach, a partner organisation, as part of widening access to the project and the cultural heritage of the landscape.  Led by two well-known local musicians, the project sought to revive a range of traditional music in danger of disappearing and was so successful that the choir determined to keep going: they persuaded the leaders to continue, opened a bank account and with ongoing support, they continue to perform, financing themselves from box office takings and membership fees. Another challenge they rose to was to create and perform an annual Barnes Night, adapting the tradition of Burns Night to celebrate the life and work of Dorset’s dialect poet, William Barnes. This has now become a fixed part of their annual programme, complete with the ‘serpenting in’ of a Blue Vinny cheese.

Outputs/Outcomes

The South Dorset Ridgeway Landscape Partnership sought to conserve, enhance and celebrate the ancient ceremonial landscape of the South Dorset Ridgeway.  Achievements through volunteering include:

  • condition surveys of 440 archaeological heritage features (double the original target);
  • 40 archaeological features and 15ha priority habitat brought into improved condition;
  • 540m of dry-stone wall restored (double the original target)
  • 2.2 km of hedgerows restored (with one site already reporting the arrival of nesting yellowhammers);
  • 2,500 volunteer days of landscape survey and restoration delivering over £295,000 of volunteer time (£100k over target)

Overall the Partnership achieved:

  • 20 projects delivering a £3m investment in the Dorset AONB
  • 146 advisory visits to local landowners and farmers
  • 173 Ha of priority habitat restored, and 220 Ha of biodiversity and landscape areas will have been enhanced and maintained
  • 298 SDR events reaching over 11,759 participants
  • 1,270 school pupils engaged, 35 teachers trained in Forest School
  • 60 days of landscape education delivered to 39 participants
  • 37 young radio journalists trained.

And it’s fair to say that Jill in some way had a hand in delivery of many of these targets!  But she would credit the efforts of the volunteers who helped to deliver these ambitious targets, and particularly the role of EuCAN Dorset Midweek Volunteers, who were a key partner delivering much of the practical conservation output.  And through engagement with our project, the group also benefitted: numbers of regular volunteers have increased, including the recruitment of a significant number of women to what was a largely male-dominated group; and capacity and resilience have been strengthened by investing in equipment and training in first aid and use of power tools (taken up by many of the women volunteers).  And perhaps best of all, the volunteers themselves report direct benefits from taking part in the project and agree that their own lives have been enhanced by the social, health and wellbeing benefits of conservation volunteering.

Learning

The scheme was an ambitious five-year programme, and despite the inevitable bumps along the way, managed to achieve significant and ground-breaking outputs. In particular, it has far exceeded ambitions for engaging and involving local people and has built a legacy for continued learning as well as arts-led engagement and project delivery.

The scheme is a great example of what makes Heritage Lottery Landscape Partnerships such a special programme - the scale of ambition, the range of partners not normally found working collaboratively and the desire to root programmes deep within local communities.

The key learning is that without the right person in place, success will not follow.  And it is affiliation to this person that motivates volunteers, not the organisation behind them.  However, we’ve also found that these points also help:

  • Partnering with an existing volunteer organisation with a strong work ethic; high levels of skills and experience ensuring that work is of a high standard; and an inclusive ethos welcoming and supporting people of all backgrounds including vulnerable adults and mental health service users;
  • Providing high quality training and support, and regular activities which had clear and relevant purpose;
  • Providing a wide range of opportunities for people to access the project: many volunteers became engaged in multiple strands of activity showing a deep level of engagement with the project and the landscape.

​​​​Links

Land of Stone and Bone photos on Flickr

Project Archive


Quote from nominee

‘It has been a privilege to work with so many brilliant volunteers, and to see the impact they have had on the landscape, and the impact that volunteering and this special landscape have had on them.   I am totally in awe of their dedication and commitment – our fantastic achievements would not have been possible without them.’ - Jill Hearing - South Dorset Ridgeway LPS


Quotes from participants

‘What a brilliant five years, and to be honest I don’t want it to end.  So I’ll continue to volunteer my time, I’ll continue to walk the Ridgeway, breathe its air and marvel at its special place in our hearts.’ 

‘Fantastic way to spend my first year of ‘retirement’ – hedgelaying, dry stone walling, scrub-bashing – what else to do at 66 but get a chainsaw ticket!  And so much more to come!’ 

‘My highlight - working with people to make something that lasts.’

‘We now have a sizeable team of fully equipped machine operators, so we can undertake more challenging work and provide more interesting opportunities for everyone - all united by the sheer pleasure of working in the beautiful Dorset countryside, and the sense of achievement at the end of a working day helping to keep it beautiful.’


Key search words: Volunteer, Conservation