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Leaders among us

Published 21 Sep 2015

Justin Kell is Bush Heritage’s first volunteer Team LeaderJustin Kell is Bush Heritage’s first volunteer Team Leader.

The sun is just rising over Scottsdale Reserve as Bush Heritage volunteer Justin Kell steps from the cosy sleeping quarters.

It’s a chilly morning in the New South Wales hinterland. The overnight temperature has dropped below zero, coating everything in a layer of frost. It’ll be tough going this morning as the ground dries out, but it could be worse. At least it’s not snow.

Either way, it won’t deter Justin, from Goulburn, and a team of volunteers from a weekend of diligent work. On the agenda are two days of rabbit control, nothing they haven’t faced before.

But this is no ordinary weekend for Justin. This particular assignment on Scottsdale Reserve holds new challenges for him. This weekend he will become Bush Heritage’s first formalised Volunteer Team Leader.

Bush Heritage has had volunteers leading groups of volunteers in the past, but the new program formalises the role and offers a more structured approach for people interested in using their leadership skills in this way.

Volunteers at workBush Heritage volunteers in action at Scottsdale Reserve.

In his new voluntary role a three‑person crew of fellow volunteers will report directly to him. In addition to his typical jobs as a volunteer, Justin has taken on the added responsibilities of coordinating and managing the team, allocating jobs and managing the volunteers’ workloads, not to mention ensuring their safety in the field.

I’m buoyed by the idea of making a greater contribution to Bush Heritage… If we can contribute at a more responsible level, well let’s do it.

Justin is the test case, and after volunteering for ten years he’s looking forward to the chance to take his efforts to the next level.

“I’m buoyed by the idea of making a greater contribution to Bush Heritage by being in a role with a bit more responsibility,” he says. “For me, that's appealing and that’s why I’m putting my hand up to do it. I’m sure there would be many more people like me out there thinking, 'If we can contribute at a more responsible level, well let’s do it'."

Volunteers in action doing revegetation work.

National Volunteer Program Coordinator Michelle Stook says the program is in its early days, but the Team Leader model could be rolled out nation wide.

“Under the new model, a specific Volunteer Team Leader position description will be advertised, and interested people can apply,” she says. “To be selected they'll need to be experienced with the safety and induction processes and managing small teams of volunteers.”

It’s a similar model used by emergency response organisations. Team leaders are recruited specifically for their management skills and are trained to lead and manage small teams of volunteers within their regions.

Michelle says that it’s also an important acknowledgement that volunteering comes in many forms, and a variety of skills are needed.

Volunteers working with tree guards.

“We have a lot of very experienced people out there who are keen to take on volunteer management roles. They may be less able  to do the physical work, but can contribute and play an important part through people management. We need those kinds of skills and knowledge just as much as we need people on the ground and out in the field.”

It’s a model that will eventually lead to greater volunteering opportunities. With a more coordinated approach to resourcing volunteering, Bush Heritage will eventually be able to broaden its programs and enable more people to get involved.

“Currently, we’ve got more prospective volunteers than available opportunities,” Michelle says. “It’s wonderful that so many people want to get involved.”

With a Volunteer Team Leader model we'll potentially be able to expand our opportunities and support reserve staff further by sharing the volunteer management role. Right now we’re just starting slowly and testing the water. We want to get some feedback as part of the trial and find out what needs to be tweaked before we start progressively rolling it out across our reserves.”

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