Epping Forest ‘Lend a Hand’ Day

As Chairman of the Epping Forest and Commons Committee at the City of London Corporation, I was delighted to host the Forest’s very first ‘Lend a Hand Day’ on Saturday 23rd March.

The event drew together long-standing volunteers who have contributed enormously to the wellbeing of Epping Forest, along with Committee Members, Epping Forest staff and members of the public who answered our call to come and ‘have a go’ at the range of different volunteering opportunities available.

In 2023, we estimate that 12,637 volunteer hours were donated in Epping Forest. That equates to about £190,000 of labour to our charity annually. However, much of the existing volunteer workforce is advancing in age and we want to inspire the next generation to come together, to work alongside and learn from them and to enjoy the many benefits volunteering brings. This includes learning new skills, improving mental and physical health and acquiring the sense of fulfilment you get when you give something back to a worth cause.

As Conservators, we would like to grow and diversify our range of volunteering opportunities and make them as accessible as possible to those of all abilities and communities. To support this aim, we have recently hired an Engagement and Volunteering Officer to work alongside our existing team.

We have also produced a new Volunteer Guide for Epping Forest, outlining some of the opportunities you can participate in throughout the year. This document will continue to grow in the months ahead, so if you’re an organisation who is looking for volunteers in Epping Forest, please let us know at eppingforest@cityoflondon.gov.uk.

As a small token of our appreciation, an ‘Epping Forest Volunteers’ badge was issued to all participants. The design features an ancient oak tree known as the “Monarch of the Forest”. Locally, it is also known by the names Grimston’s Oak (after Robert Grimston the 19th century cricketer), Cuckoo Oak (located near Cuckoo Pits) or Bedford’s Oak (after J. T. Bedford who was involved in the battle to save Epping Forest in the 1870s). It stands in a clearing at the junction of several rides between Fairmead Bottom and Connaught Water.

Oak trees is known to symbolise longevity, strength, power, wisdom, honour, stability, protection, knowledge, courage, overcoming problems in physical health and the recovery of self-confidence. It also reflects the fact that Epping Forest houses more than 55,000 ancient trees – the largest collection in the UK. But the badge is an opportunity to remind the wide variety of volunteers that whatever organisation you chose to volunteer through, we are all working for the same cause. Whether you are a highly visible seasonal leaf at the top of the canopy, or you are a well-established root working hard underground to sustain the long-term health of the tree, we are all equally as important in conserving this natural asset.

My sincere thanks to everyone who came along and had a go! That included Val, the City of London resident from the Barbican Estate who joined the Epping Forest Conservation Volunteers. It included Cal from Camden who saw the event on Eventbrite and thought he’d come along. It included lots of young families with children and it also included passers by who saw the signage and thought they’d lend a hand!

Let’s see how many more volunteer hours we can clock-up together in 2024.

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