In January 2014, I was appointed as Belfast's Natural Communities Trainee Outreach Officer. A year and a half later, my time as trainee is coming to an end. I have learned an exceptional amount during my placement, and have come out the other side as a more rounded, better qualified individual.
One of the first jobs assigned to me on my arrival on TCV Belfast turf was a regeneration and rejuvenation project at a community allotment site; Knockbracken allotments. My job was to rekindle the community spirit and run community work days in order to improve facilities on the site.
I am pleased to say that I achieved my goal, and the allotments were even awarded a certification of Merit from the RDS! Not to mention 2nd prize at Belfast City Councils annual Autumn Fair!
I was eased gently into taking groups by shadowing some of my colleagues. I accompanied them to their community groups, and got tips and ideas on how to engage and create suitable programmes for different length community projects. One of my more memorable shadowing groups was a session in Carlisle Circus in Belfast, where I was assisting with a group of excitable school children; weeding raised beds and plating peas, beans and other vegetables into the prepared beds. This done, all they needed was to be watered in, so who better to invite than the fire service! The children went home, happy with their experience, and so did I - having got to sit in the fire truck!
The first community garden that I had the responsibility to facilitate groups in was Woodvale Park Community garden. I met the volunteers, Lelia and Michael – now my faithful regulars, and we made a plan to create a productive vegetable garden. At the peak of the growing season, we had onions, cabbages, lettuce, peas and beans and Strawberries coming out of our ears! We took part in a local event in Woodvale Park, in order to allow the local community to have a look round the garden, sample our produce, and get creative with small vegetable themed activities. We even had a celebrity visit - Mr Litter Pig himself! I was first in the queue to get a snap with him!
Alongside my groups, I also helped organise and run events. Last summer, TCV worked with Carrickfergus Borough Council to deliver a Biodiversity Summer School in Jubilee Woods. I organised and delivered nature themed art, ecology and construction activities for local families who wanted to experience the outdoors in an educational and creative way.
After the success of this event my next task was to help organise one of TCVs annual events – the Big Green Weekend in Ormeau Park. This was a day of free family friendly nature themed activities for anyone wanting to get involved and have a bit of Craic! My role was to organise activities for TCV employees to deliver on the day, as well as logistics on the day. The day was a massive success, and was enjoyed by all - with around 5000 attendees!
My time as a trainee has been incredibly diverse and varied, and the amount of experience I have gained from my placement is huge. Throughout my facilitation of school groups, community garden projects and even paperwork days, I have enjoyed it immensely, and haven't gone a day without a big belly laugh courtesy of good humoured colleagues, volunteers, or community group antics. I have a lot to be thankful for, including the huge support from my Health and Community Colleagues in Beech House.
Rachel Bolt, Natural Communities Project Officer Trainee.