Thursday, 8 September 2016

Second Chances, New Horizons

Matt Clark (second from left), retiring Reserve Warden, Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust

This week's guest post was first published in the latest edition of the Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust News. Many thanks to the local wildlife charity for allowing us to republish here.

Volunteers are vital to the Trust’s work – we simply couldn’t do it without them! We are also grateful for the opportunity to make a real difference to people’s lives, as this letter from retiring reserve warden Matt Clark shows:

In February 2012 I had just been released from HMP Altcourse after serving 9 months for what I still class as a despicable crime of fraud and forgery. On returning home I was unable to go out without my parents for I lived in fear of retribution. I was diagnosed with manic depression and, as in prison, I was under the care of a mental health team due to attempts to take my own life.

In March 2012 the Montgomeryshire Volunteer Bureau suggested I try a visit to the Nurtured by Nature project at Severn Farm Pond. I went along in the first week of April and lasted all of 6 minutes. It was just too much for me - all those eyes looking at me and judging me, as I thought. But the following week I went again and stayed for the whole session. I started to attend unaccompanied and quickly realised that I wasn’t being judged at all, that one’s past can be left at the door. I was able to go there and share my interest in wildlife, under the leadership and later friendship of Mel. I was able to find my feet and in August of that year I was able to go to Tesco on my own to buy a paper - a huge achievement.

I worked at the pond for 3 years every Wednesday without fail. Whilst there I have learnt more about myself, have a better tolerance of people and have learnt how to build bug hotels, bird boxes, adapt habitats for the benefit of wildlife and learnt about wild flowers. My general knowledge has increased widely and I have built up the courage to join many other wildlife groups and Trusts. Over the time I spent at the project I was able to express myself, to tell my story and not be judged. Through the project I have met a chap from a completely different walk of life who has turned out to be a dear friend, something I would never have done before.

Prison strips you of everything - self-belief, self-respect and freedom. The project gave it all back to me as well as a sense of belonging. I was fortunate to be made warden of Severn Farm Pond which was a huge honour. To be given that chance in life to give something back was truly excellent. As a result of the self-confidence I have gained from the project I now run my own business, have been signed off by the mental health team and am starting a new adventure in my life.

If anyone gets an opportunity to join or work with MWT or at Severn Farm Pond then do it. It will change your life for the better, I guarantee it. As I have said before, Mel* and the project changed my life. The sessions at the reserve mean so much to the people that attend them. I’m sure I’m not the first and I won’t be the last to pass through the Nurtured by Nature project and be so much better for it.

Many thanks for Matt for sharing his story with a wider audience. Have you volunteered in conservation work? How has it impacted on your mental health? Tell us more in the comment box below.

*Mel Chandler is the MWT Community Partnerships Officer. She works with local community, voluntary and statutory agencies to develop outreach projects, such as Nurtured by Nature, which promote and connect people and the natural world. You can contact Mel to find out more by emailing or ringing 01938 555654.

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