Top tips for volunteer development

Friends of Spode Rose Garden combine horticulture and art in a historic Staffordshire setting – find out how the space now blooms and read their advice on working with volunteers

Spode Rose Garden in Staffordhsire
Embracing local history, Spode Rose Garden in Staffordshire takes planting inspiration from its neighbour, the former Spode Ceramics Factory. Initially renovating just a small section of the garden during the 2013 British Ceramics Biennial, a team of dedicated volunteers have since taken on the challenge of continuing its development.

Circular bed at Spode Rose Garden
A particular highlight in the garden is a circular bed where a bone china rose, in the Spode Ceramics style, sits under a glass dome, created by artist Rita Floyd. This inspired a second collaboration with rose breeder Gareth Fryer, who bred a hybrid tea rose, Rosa ‘Spode’, especially for the garden. The bed is one of many spots where visitors can relax, socialise and learn about the history of the space.

Sunflower parties and solstice yoga

Building a garden for all community members was a key part of the space’s development.

Friends of Spode Rose Garden
Consultations were held with the local community to explore how the space could be used and, today, public events continue to be held, using it not only as an outdoor space but as a home for art installations, workshops and more. From sunflower parties to solstice yoga, bring-and-swap events to best vegetable competitions – there’s something for everyone.

Valuing your volunteers

Earlier this year, Friends of Spode Rose Garden were one of 31 groups to receive a grant from the RHS Connected Communities Fund. Keen to get their projects back up and running following reduced activity during lockdowns, the group are using the funding to support volunteer development.

Volunteers at Spode Rose Garden
We spoke to Carol Britnell, the group’s new Volunteer Coordinator to get their top volunteering tips for other gardening groups. With over 25 years’ experience working in the voluntary sector, Carol has a wealth of experience in ensuring people feel valued when volunteering.

What’s the biggest challenge you face when recruiting volunteers?

“The biggest challenge is volunteer retention. Some volunteers will come and want to stay forever, whereas others will dip in and out. The key is realising that everyone that starts volunteering is doing it for a reason, and so it’s important to spend time working out what each person wants to do.

“Try to make it as easy as possible for them to return by giving them different tasks and spend time learning what sparks their interest.”


What are your top tips for groups looking to run a volunteer drive?

“Use social media as it can help you contact lots of different groups and you can keep reminding people as your volunteer session gets closer.

“Plan the content of your posts so they appeal to lots of different people and be clear about what you want from the volunteers and what you can give them. Volunteering is a two-way street – both the organisation and the volunteer should benefit from the exchange.

Volunteering at Spode Rose Garden
“A flyer is still a great idea, as you can put them in local doctor’s surgeries and libraries; anywhere the public go, but make sure there are contact details including a telephone number, as people often want to touch base before they come to you. Remember not everyone has email.

“Contact your local volunteer centre (most areas will have one) as they can help you get people on board, can advertise your opportunity to those who want to volunteer and can even support you with resources and sometimes funding. If you are a new group, they can help you write your policies and procedures so you’re making sure you keep everyone safe.”

What has been the best way to keep volunteers engaged with your projects?

“The activities need to be varied each session so people don’t get bored. Think about finding out what skills people have and what skills they want to develop, then tailor the activity to meet their needs.

“It’s really important to be a friendly face and make sure people feel welcome and not judged. Recognise that we all lead different lives; let people know the door is always open, even if they can’t commit to every session.

“The most important thing is making sure people know how valued their contribution has been. People are more likely to return when they feel they have achieved something, and have been recognised for the time and effort they have given.”

Working at Spode Rose Garden

Follow the progress of Spode Rose Garden

Inspired to learn more about the Friends of Spode Rose Garden and their projects? Follow their progress on Facebook and Instagram or visit their website.

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