"Disrespected and used": Thameside Nature Park volunteer feels they are "take for granted

VOLUNTEERS for the Thurrock Thameside Nature Park have written an open letter in which they detail how they feels helpers at the park are being "taken for granted".

The volunteers have asked to remain anonymous.

Sir,

"In times of austerity and economic downturn we hear more and more how important volunteers are and how they should be respected, celebrated and valued. We read many positive stories of people’s great experiences of volunteering for charities. How they gain confidence, respect and friendship through giving their skills and time freely to help the organisation and community.

A group of us that have volunteered locally for Thurrock Thameside Nature Park managed by Essex Wildlife Trust would like to highlight the other hidden less spoken about experiences of volunteering for a large well funded charity.

We have never felt so disrespected and used! The Nature Park would not be the success it is without the volunteer team working tirelessly over the past 3 years. We have donated our time, skills and money as we all love the nature park and want it to succeed yet senior management have offered little or no support. A simple thank you from staff at the end of a busy shift ( cooking over a hot press for hours is hard work) would make all the difference.

Yet within the past year current Essex Wildlife Trust trend has been to treat volunteers as expendable with little or no training or support given to those at visitors centres.

The management consistently expect us to give more without any respect! Why does a well funded and supported charity feel that people can be treated this way? Is it lack of management direction? Financially driven? Or poor leadership? As the CEO just received an MBE it would suggest that it must be one or both of the other two!

Head office or the current team leader Terry Morris have shown no regard for the volunteers well-being or feelings. No effort has been made to rectify problems caused. Most don’t even get a thank you at the end of a days work.

Volunteers are now seen as disposable commodities and are not respected only expected to work.

No discussion or information is given to the majority of volunteers which causes discontent and unsettlement amongst the volunteer team with some being treated special and more important than others.

A number of newer volunteers have been treated differently possibly due to their long term friendship with management, we cannot question their demands or orders without negative reactions. If we ask questions we are rarely given a response or other members of staff are blamed. This is not the environment it used to be, as expected in Thurrock, or a happy supportive volunteering experience we expected from an organisation with over 2000 volunteers.

As volunteers have been expected to do so much with no explanation or support many have stopped giving extra time freely, rather than investing in trying to resolve issues the Trust has spent money on a number of zero hour contracts to plug the holes.

We are really shocked that a charity would resort to the very kind of contracts that the Government and business are trying to stop. These are used to avoid creating proper paid roles and avoid paying staff holiday and sick pay, another way of using people.

We never chose to volunteer to stop the organisation creating proper paid roles – volunteers should be used where the organisation cannot afford the salaries of paid roles.

We felt that we should write this letter to make the public aware of how important volunteers are and how the treatment by Essex Wildlife Trust towards some of their volunteers will lead to people having very negative impression of volunteering.

Many of us have and still do volunteer for other community projects and these groups have make us feel truly welcome and valued members of their groups.

Other smaller voluntary organisations can get it right then come on larger charities such as Essex Wildlife Trust remember your roots and don’t take advantage of people’s good will.

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