Wednesday 5th April 2017
Typing is something that I take for granted, but as I sit here today softly and slowly pressing each key down whilst grimacing I will never do so again. If only I hadn’t had an unfortunate incident with a piano lid crashing down onto my digits (I don’t even play the piano!) and I have just got home from a day volunteering with the Norwich Fringe Project. It’s not just my fingers that are aching, but parts of my body that I didn’t realise could ache! However, far from being unhappy about this I have a sense of enormous wellbeing, safe in the knowledge that there will always be a bit of my heart devoted to some steps by the recycling bins at the back of Tesco’s car park in Drayton (I’ve been listening to a lot of Blur recently with my children).
I am referring, of course, to the first volunteer day that the four of us (Jen Lowe, Kellee Rich, Jane Bailey and myself) joined by Annie Sommazzi and Matt Davies of the Norwich Fringe Project to improve the access onto Marriott’s Way from Tesco’s in Drayton (other supermarkets are available, but they don’t join on to the Marriott’s Way). As the ‘before’ photograph shows the existing means of access was up a slope that becomes almost impassable in winter months. Given how well used this access is, improving it has long been a priority of the local community, parish council and local members. Therefore the plan put forward by Annie and Matt was to create some steps with a handrail up and over the bank to form a quality and durable access. However, to do it by themselves would have taken a good few days or they would have had to pay for a contractor to do them. That’s where we come in.
Slightly nervous about what the day held we turned up by the recycling bins (oh the glamour) and met Keith. Keith has been regularly volunteering for a number of years with the Fringe and was a source of great help and inspiration during the day. He is in his early 70’s (although I think he must have a portrait in his attic) but cycled to where we were working and then home again after putting in a lot of physical labour, which is just impressive. Annie ran us through what we would be doing and Matt gave us a safety talk, as well as introducing us to our tools for the day (it was a bit like the first episode of strictly when the dancers meet their celebrities). If you end up going on a future volunteer day and Matt tells you that the metal bar is deceptively heavy, then he is not joking. How heavy can a bar be I thought, casually going to pick it up with one hand? Well let’s just say I didn’t feel like Arnie when I then had to add my other hand to pick it up!
From there we got cracking and continued at an impressive pace throughout the day. We stopped for lunch and for a tea and biscuit break (the Fringe guys do not scrimp on biscuits!) but otherwise we were pretty much active all day. We were all a bit tentative at first but very quickly we were wrangling tools that we hadn’t ever used before like pros (Matt, Annie and Keith might have a different view!). Kellee, Annie and I were busy making the steps whilst Jane, Jen and Keith cracked on with the handrail. We had a couple of posts put in the wrong way around and Matt made the executive (correct) decision to take out a step and dig it into the bank a bit more, but otherwise everything went very smoothly. This was in no small part down to Annie, Matt and Keith’s direction which made the time fly by.
The work that the Fringe is doing on the Broadland sites (and across all their sites) is excellent and is really making a positive difference to the communities in which they are working. Money is stretched though and getting regular groups of volunteers to help out is key to making that money go further. But it’s not just about that. We all got a great sense of achievement at the end of the day from seeing a project through from the start to the finish. We were all really pleased by the end result and I can confirm that the steps can be both walked up and down (pretty much the yard stick for any stairs in my book). It was a really good opportunity to make connections across the council and the physical work undoubtedly helped the body and mind (although my body might argue otherwise now!).
We will be publicising details of further volunteer days later this year and I would really encourage you to sign up for one.
Written by Ben Burgess, Planning Projects and Landscape Manager at Broadland District Council