Meet Our Volunteers

Volunteering is a wonderful way to meet new people and make a difference locally.  Its good for you and its good for Chislehurst! 

Why not start the New Year, with a new you. We know the benefits to your health and well being from volunteering in your local neighbourhood. The Chislehurst Society thrives on new blood for our projects and activities. We are looking to increase our list of volunteers and even trustees on our Board.

Come and chat to us, either at our Wednesday coffee mornings or call into the Old Chapel Office. Who knows, you could start a whole new ambition and tick off one of your new year resolutions at the same time!

We hope to see you soon.

Girl-Guiding: Helen Beecher Bryant

Girl-guiding has been a part of Helen’s life since joining Brownies at the age of seven. She became a Young Leader and, when a Brownie unit in Orpington was on the brink of closing, began to run that unit. Years later, she runs six different groups in Chislehurst and Petts Wood and believes that the opportunities in Guiding help girls to develop leadership skills. It’s this that makes Helen so passionate about the organisation.

Guiding has a unique method, ‘The Five Essentials’ which ensure that girls gain the most from their experiences. One of the essentials is self-government and decision making which Helen thinks is a really exciting aspect of the programme. ‘We try and draw in the girl’s ideas as much as possible and mix them in with what the opportunities are so that we create a really meaningful programme, whether that’s a five year old rainbow choosing from a series of different activity cards or a guide choosing what interest badge she wants to do.’ In 2014, they even organised a trip to Iceland based on a girl saying that she wanted to see the Northern Lights.

One of the most recent hash-tags of the Girl Guiding campaign is #Everygirl. Of all the messages, this is the one that resonates with Helen the most. ‘We are for all girls, regardless of background, nationality, upbringing, for all girls.’ In practice, that varies from suggesting home-activities that require little resources to securing funding for accessible transport so that girls with physical disabilities can go to camp.

The programme shifts as the lives of young girls shift. As a result, there is a blogging badge, a campaigning badge, a women’s rights badge and, by introducing the girls to fundraising platforms such as Easyfundraising and Ziffit, Helen highlights how the internet can be utilised for good. ‘We need to make sure as an organisation we are keeping up with what today’s girl needs and wants. That’s why the programme’s changed, to make sure that
we’re totally relevant.’

Over Easter, Helen and her team took the Guides and Rangers to Sangam, the Girl-guiding World Centre in India. ‘We’ve been abroad, we’ve done local and international trips. This is the natural next step but it is the biggest project we’ve ever done.’ The girls attended a programme called ‘Mangoes and Mermaids’ which immersed them in Indian culture, from food to festivals, within a unique international Guiding setting. The trip blog can be read here;






 The group did everything they could to make the trip accessible, from taking bags of fabric to ‘Cash for Clothes’ points to bag-packing in Sainsbury’s, organising events and becoming one of the Co-ops local causes. ‘It gives them that ownership and it means that everyone can contribute. It’s about pulling together all these different ways to fundraise. Making the girls see that money doesn’t have to be a barrier, you can make things happen with planning and effort.’

The positive experiences Helen has had means that she is always trying to promote the volunteering opportunities within Girlguiding. Whilst volunteers need to fulfil a DBS check and have references, enough training is provided that no qualifications are needed at the outset. ‘I think a lot of people think you need special skills or special expertise but you don’t, you just need to come and be a role model. And once you’re a volunteer in girl-guiding, the opportunities open to you are incredible. You can do a residential qualification, you can train up and become a mentor or a trainer.’

 Volunteering can be a big commitment so some people help out at residential trips or whenever they can. ‘It’s about making opportunities available, making them accessible. And understanding that everybody’s commitments are different, some people see volunteering as a priority, a lot of people don’t, a lot of people can’t.’

When new volunteers ask Helen what the benefits are, she’s always got an answer ready. ‘It’s friendship, it’s opportunity, it’s skill development, it’s so much more than just helping out with a group.’ Ultimately though, it’s the ability to help girls reach their potential that motivates Helen. ‘You get to see the girls thrive. I look at some of my Young Leaders and they’ve been with me since they were seven years old, they’re now running units.’

Girl-guiding units meet in various community spaces in Chislehurst and the surrounding areas. To register interest, please visit the Girl-guiding website: Follow the Chislehurst Division on Facebook here; and on Twitter Helen can be found on Twitter here;

Meet Vivien

Scadbury Park is a large nature reserve in Chislehurst which includes a moated manor, ancient woodland and meadows. It’s used often by runners, picnickers and dog-walkers and Chislehurst would not be quite the same without it. Friends of Scadbury, which recently became a charity, is dedicated to protecting and preserving the park. The group has put in learning boards so that children can identify the plants and animals in the park, installed QR codes to add something of interest to phone-users and ensures that as much wildlife and nature is being preserved as possible through weekly work groups. Vivien Smith has been Vice Chair of the group for the last couple of years.

Vivien’s involvement with the park is, in some ways, unusual. ‘I’m not a dog walker, I’m not a runner, I’m not a big user of the park myself but I just got into it and I feel it’s a valuable space. I think it’s the right thing to do.’ The volunteering has widened Vivien’s experiences and community too. ‘For all sorts of things, you have more people to draw on. You just feel more a sense of place. I feel that I’m more invested in the local community, I feel like I’m doing something.’
 ‘I’ve had to keep my technical skills up to date’ Vivien says, commenting on the way that running the group has helped her maintain old skills and learn new ones too.  ‘Something else that I am learning about is all of our native flora and fauna. On a recent butterfly hunt with local school children it was obvious my identification skills were lacking and I had to ask the children to check with Andrew, the site manager!’

Whilst Vivien mostly focuses on the fundraising and organisational side of the group, there are two work groups for volunteers to do conservation work within the park. In a way, it has become a place for people, especially the elderly, to reconnect with their community. ‘They’ve all got to know each other so it’s another friendship group.  There is a lot in the news about people being lonely – if you get out there and do something, it’s very easy and people are very welcoming.’
As Vivien has developed and maintained skills as result of her volunteering, the same applies to the weekly group, ‘I’m sure the volunteers we have out every Thursday would say they’ve learnt a lot – what you can and can’t do in meadows, a lot of identification of species, how to fell a tree, how to safely take a limb off a tree, they’ve learnt all of that because they’ve had people teaching them.’ Knowing that everything has purpose makes the tasks worthwhile. ‘Okay, pulling out brambles is the least exciting task but they know why they’re doing it; it’s to ensure that the birds have somewhere to nest and to stop it encroaching anymore on the meadows so we don’t lose them.’

That is always a possibility. The space requires huge maintenance and without that protection, the park could get to a state beyond repair. The loss that would be for Chislehurst was reinforced for Vivien by her interaction with the school children. ‘How few of them got out in any green space was shocking to me. I think green spaces are needed, I think they’re good for general health and wellbeing. They’re free: if you can’t afford a gym, you can afford to go and have a walk around Scadbury. In terms of the environment; it’s a very big space, we’re lucky to have that in the middle of Chislehurst. It’s right on people’s doorstops. All of these green spaces are very important and should be protected across the country. I think it’s something we should cherish.’
If you agree, you can learn more about volunteering and donating on their website;



Meet Lesley

As you’re walking down the streets of Chislehurst, sitting in the station or hearing about local history, it’s easy not to question why the streets are so clean, why the station has a book donation scheme or how we know about the long-gone past of our town. We accept them as givens; just part of what gives our town character. The volunteers who make these ideals reality are often forgotten about. This is the first blog post in a series intending to shine a well-deserved light on these people, starting with Lesley who volunteers with the Chislehurst Society. I meet her at their weekly coffee morning, surrounded by people who see the meetings as an important part of their social life.

Lesley moved to Chislehurst twenty-five years ago and, after retirement, volunteering was a natural antidote to her boredom. ‘I’ve probably done volunteering all my life at some stage. And then when I retired, I was desperately looking for things to do. When I got involved in the Chislehurst Society, there was so much to do and such a nice group of people to do things with.’

‘I’ve always wanted to give something back to society. I think it’s really important. Some people say it’s the council’s job to pick up litter but you’ve got to do it yourself if you want your environment to be nice. I don’t believe in waiting for other people to do things. I think you should get on and do it yourself.’

And so she has. Lesley’s involvement varies from picking up rubbish to researching local history to being a part of a group that works to maintain Chislehurst station.

There’s a certain satisfaction to helping the town, Lesley claims, even with the less glamorous jobs: ‘Picking up litter is so satisfying when it’s done, when you’ve done a whole road and you walk back and it’s just clean, that’s really quite satisfying.’

Lesley is also involved in the History Society which researches the past of Chislehurst. Her involvement came from a curiosity about the place in which she lives. ‘One of the first things I did when I moved to Chislehurst was buy a famous but rare book called ‘The History of Chislehurst’ and reading that made me realise what a historical place it was.’

The history group creates content for the magazine as well as booklets, which has introduced Lesley to the interesting lives of people both past and present. ‘There’s a lady in the village who was in the Bletchley code-breaking group and there was another really elderly man who told us about what the shops used to be like in the high street when he was a boy, so there’s that kind of history.’

The group research the famous people that have lived here but also the ordinary people whose lives are often forgotten. One of the group’s most recent projects is a booklet for which members researched people in the graveyard. ‘One that I looked into was a son of a very famous rector of Chislehurst who died on a ship that sank off Ireland with about 400 people. Another was a mountain climber who was killed in a mountain accident in Switzerland. Those were both interesting little stories.’

Volunteering for Lesley is clearly more than just hard work; it seems to have offered her the chance to meet interesting people and learn more about the town as well as the opportunity to improve it. She speaks of it in a way that suggests real value in these experiences. ‘There’s a lot, there is a lot to know. There are lots of things to do if you’re in Chislehurst and you want to give something back to society or just meet people and socialise, there’s a lot of volunteering that you can do.’