Not knowing, innovation & Bollywood dancing

The title of this post says it all. In what other job do you have the ability to attend a talk on being the best version of you, discover the power of innovation and prance around at 9am? Of course it’s with the National Trust!

Every year the National Trust runs a two day conference come festival at Calke Abbey in Derbyshire. This is for all employees of the Trust who manage volunteers in their day to day jobs, so not only is it House & Collections staff but rangers, gardeners, volunteer coordinators, GM’s, to name but a few. Each year Convestival takes a different theme, this year’s being ‘Experiment. Invent. Discover’. Upon entering the ‘lab’ we were greeted by people in lab coats and goggles, Calke and Convestival had fully embraced the science theme. After a much needed cup of tea and plenty of cake we were ready to start. The format of the next two days would be to meet in the morning at the lab ready for the days keynote speakers and then an afternoon of different sessions. The first morning saw Tom Williams who is Chief Operating Officer of parkrun Global. If you’ve never heard of parkrun it’s the UK’s most successful provider of free physical activity and has 150,000+ weekly participants worldwide. There are currently 27 parkrun events on National Trust sites across the UK. Tom spoke to us about the rise of popularity in parkrun and how volunteers have made that happen. Each event has a volunteers in charge and each area has a designated volunteer that will source funding and locations.

I attended an interesting talk on programming and it’s potential. Admittedly it was about seasonal programming and was given by the Trust’s Christmas & Easter Project Manager. (Yes, that is a job!) The main focus was on Upton House’s unique way of getting their volunteers geared up for a big Christmas project. Many you are probably aware of Banking for Victory which has seen Upton completely change their visitor offer. To take their volunteers by surprise they sent out Christmas cards in July with all the various activities they could get involved in to promote and deliver their Christmas project. One activity included a keeping warm group, perhaps something we should investigate?

I think the most interesting session of the day was one called Bounce-Back-Ability which was run by Sharon Collier, an external partner to the Trust. She spoke to us about how resilience is now being recognised as a core leadership skill. But how can one become more resilient? She told us to think of any challenges we face as cracks in a reservoir and the more we worry about these challenges the more the cracks develop, therefore the water in our reservoirs keeps seeping out. The way to overcome these cracks isn’t to patch them up to keep the water in, but to constantly top it up with the things we enjoy. One little bit of advice from Sharon was ‘never believe anyone who says they haven’t had the time to do something’. By saying you haven’t had time means you are prioritising what you deem to be important and not what actually needs doing. I think we can all learn a little from that.

The evening of day one of Convestival is a very social affair with copious amounts of food, cider and music throughout the evening. The cider provided is from the estate at Killerton and is made by volunteers and the Croome River Blues Band made their first appearance at Convestival. This is a band made up of staff and volunteers from Croome Court.

Day two saw a most inspiring talk and therefore the most busy session from a speaker called Stephen D’Souza. However the day started with early morning aerobics to get into the swing of things – and it helped! But don’t worry, this won’t be an activity during the morning briefing.

Back to Stephen. His talk entitled ‘Not Knowing – The Path is Made By Walking’ spoke volumes to many people. Essentially, he was talking about how entering into the unknown affects us as people and how it shouldn’t be something to be fearful of. Instead we should relish the opportunity of being able to step into the unknown. Immediately seven day opening crossed my mind and Stephen’s words of ‘cultivate a mindset of exploration and experimentation’ suddenly become very real and exciting. As he rightly said, people have the most growth and opportunity in the unknown. Yes, opening seven days a week has its problems and will of course take a long time before it becomes a little more comfortable for all of us. However, the potentials from it are incredible and we will be able to achieve so much more in the long run. If we all adopted just a slight bit of Stephen’s mindset we’d be in a very positive place, I hope to upload the video of his talk as soon as it’s available.  I believe that the amount of heads that were nodding and murmurs of agreement meant that Stephen’s talk had meant something to a lot of people attending Convestival. Needless to say his session afterwards was very popular. He told us never to assume, to think outside in nature and to appreciate the beauty in everything. A quote by Antonio Machado featured heavily in this session.

‘Walking makes the road,
and turning to look behind
you see the path that you
will never tread again’

I didn’t expect Convestival to be so philosophical and to come back with a new mindset not only on volunteering but how I can better myself as a volunteer manager to make volunteering for the remarkable people at Snowshill the best it can be.


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