Dan Walker, Robert Holden and Lily Bakratsa won the inaugural volunteering accolades at the 2017 Landscape Institute Awards

    Lily Bakratsa mentored students from Swanlea School in Whitechapel as part of the RHS 'Green Plan It' challenge. Despite the students' initial struggles - many of them lives in flats and had little or no experience with personal green space - Swanlea was the overall winner

    Last week, on Tuesday 5 December, the UN marked the 32nd International Volunteer Day. Designated in 1985, the day celebrates volunteers’ efforts and raises awareness about the contributions they make to their organisations and communities.

    To mark this day, we spoke to the three winners of the LI’s Outstanding Contribution Through Volunteering Award, presented at the 2017 LI Awards ceremony on 23 November. Dan Walker, Robert Holden and Lily Bakratsa all shared the story of their time as volunteers, and their thoughts on the importance of volunteering.

    Dan Walker

    Dan Walker is an associate landscape planner at LUC, which he joined after graduating from the University of Sheffield’s MLA in 2009. Dan is a key member of the planning and LVIA team in Scotland and manages projects undertaken from the Glasgow and Edinburgh offices.

    Our Awards judges commented that since 2013, Dan ‘has been a driving force behind the Landscape Institute in Scotland and is a role model to others’.

    When did you first start volunteering, both in general and for the LI specifically?

    I began volunteering with the Landscape Institute Scotland (LIS) branch committee four years ago, initially with the intention of assisting here and there where I could, while gaining valuable experience during the Pathway to Chartership process. I also regularly volunteer at race events organised by my local cycle club in Glasgow, events which rely on the time of volunteers to operate and ensure there remains a healthy competitive racing scene in Scotland.

    What led you to volunteer for the LI?

    I joined the Scotland branch committee following the encouragement and persuasion of experienced senior colleagues at LUC and existing committee members. This was under the thinly veiled guise of injecting some youthfulness into a committee that many people may traditionally have assumed to be reserved for more senior, often retired members who may be able to devote more time. My initial impressions and experience couldn’t have been further from this. I was immediately struck by the infectious drive, enthusiasm and devotion of the affable chair, the late Mark Turnbull FLI.

    What are some of your proudest achievements as a volunteer?

    My time on the committee has been enriching and rewarding. From my involvement with the LIS digital and social media, engaging with members and organisations on a daily basis, through to my contributions to policy consultations that are pertinent to my own professional work, the interesting and small achievements along the way make the sacrifices worthwhile.

    Most recently, a key focus as a committee has been the promotion of the landscape profession, the role of professionals and landscape-led solutions to key issues in Scotland through our vision Landscape for Scotland. This involved a huge commitment from a core group of committee members, the support of a willing, knowledgeable and experienced group of senior practitioners in Scotland, and the engagement of a publishing and media relations consultant. Months of hard work culminated in the launch of the vision at an event held at the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh in November, attended by guests from the landscape profession, other professional organisations and charities, government officials and elected Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs). The event marked the beginning of a conversation with landscape at the forefront.

    The LI volunteer award was a timely and fitting way to recognise not only my own contributions, but more importantly the work of a committed group of volunteers

    Being jointly awarded the LI volunteer award was a very timely and fitting way to recognise not only my own contributions to this process, but more importantly the work of a committed group of volunteers who share a willingness and desire to promote and influence the role of landscape in Scotland.

    How has volunteering enriched your work, and vice versa?

    Volunteering with LIS has given me experience of working with a number of extremely inspiring, knowledgeable and experienced landscape professionals, each of which demonstrates an unwavering commitment to the landscape profession in Scotland. During my time on the committee I have seen other younger members join, bringing enthusiasm and ideas, while seeing them progress professionally and take on more responsibility and commitments within the committee. My role on the committee continues to bring me great satisfaction, especially where we can represent members from within the profession on specific issues and seek to influence policy that potentially brings benefits to not only the profession, but also communities and the environment in Scotland.

    What role do you think volunteers play in professional organisations? How do you feel this role has changed, and how might it change in the future?

    Committed volunteers are an indispensable part of any professional organisation such as the Landscape Institute, without whom the Institute could not function. The eclectic nature of work undertaken by members across all disciplines of landscape architecture (design, planning, management, science) is not easily represented by a small number of centrally elected or appointed individuals, whilst the nuances of legislation and policy (further complicated by devolution and the ongoing Brexit negotiations) add further necessity for involvement and understanding of knowledgeable members at a more regional and local level to ensure that the Institute continues to promote and influence across the whole of the UK.

    It may be an overused cliché, but it really is your Institute. As much as it can and should work for you as members, the local knowledge and experience members can impart at a regional or branch level can go an incredibly long way. Hopefully Landscape for Scotland demonstrates and inspires others to see what is possible through the hard work and dedication of volunteers.

    Finally, what would you like to tell others about volunteering?

    Get involved with your local branch or region of the Landscape Institute. No matter how much time you may be able to spare, there will always be others who are grateful for the support and the potential skills and knowledge you may be able to bring. But most importantly, enjoy it, and it really can be as rewarding as you wish.

    Robert Holden

    Robert spent the first half of his career working for large landscape practices in London. In the second half, he was head of the landscape architecture department at the University of Greenwich.

    In retirement, he continues to champion the work of the Landscape Institute and landscape architects through his many voluntary activities.

    Our judges described Robert as ‘a passionate landscape architect who has given his life to the profession following a long career in education. The profession owes him much’.

    When did you first start volunteering, both in general and for the LI specifically?

    I started in the mid 1970s in the youth wing of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) helping organising conferences in Llubljana in Slovenia (then Yugoslavia) and Alnarp in Sweden. (N.B. Don’t organise conferences in Sweden in August and expect Swedes to come – they are all on holiday!)

    What led you to volunteer for the LI?

    The founding of the South East branch in the 1970s. This led to local boat trips, talks and visits.

    What are some of your proudest achievements as a volunteer?

    Organising seminars in Brussels for the European Federation for Landscape Architecture (EFLA) in the 2000s, which allowed landscape professionals across Europe to question EU Commission staff.

    How has volunteering enriched your work, and vice versa?

    Volunteering has helped me make friends with landscape professionals worldwide.

    What role do you think volunteers play in professional organisations? How do you feel this role has changed, and how might it change in the future?

    Volunteers are the essence of professional organisations. Without the engagement of their members, they are nothing.

    Finally, what would you like to tell others about volunteering?

    The more you give the more you get.

    Lily Bakratsa

    During her time at Farrer Huxley Associates, Lily has excelled in her position as a focus group moderator, bringing together multiple communities and ensuring their opinions are at the heart of landscape design.

    In September 2016, Lily ran a volunteer scheme at the Swanlea Secondary School helping to design a community garden. Since October 2016, Lily has been a Landscape Ambassador for the Landscape Institute.

    Our judges said that Lily ‘has demonstrated the impactful work our profession needs to do to reach and inspire diverse communities’.

    When did you first start volunteering, both in general and for the LI specifically?

    I started volunteering as a student at the University of Sheffield in 2009. It was an incentive for me to connect with people who cared about the same causes as I did – back then it was community and school gardening. I volunteered for a small project in Lowfield Primary School, where we designed and built an allotment in the school grounds. It was an enjoyable experience; I learnt a lot and felt part of a community. The hugs and smiles we got after we completed the project were a great reward.

    My involvement with the LI is quite a recent thing. I became an Ambassador for Landscape in 2016 – a volunteer role that aims to promote the profession to the wider public. It is an exciting role for me, because I get to talk about my profession a lot: landscape is a career I chose at a late stage in my life and it was a conscious and mature decision. It changed the way I viewed my surroundings, the world and life in general. As romantic as this may sound, it is true.

    My relationship and involvement with volunteering is not limited to the landscape community, though. When I faced a health issue some years back, I experienced first-hand the importance of having volunteers in the health sector who would go the extra mile and support those in need. I am now setting up an art project called London Superheroes, where I aim to celebrate humans’ talents and the importance of volunteering, paying tribute and showcasing stories of people who have been through a great challenge, have bounced back, and now help others. I am still at the very beginning of the project, as I will need to secure funding in order to continue, but I hope that the project will ultimately offer inspiration to people and urge them to use their strengths and talents for the benefit of their wider community.

    I felt it was part of my duties as a landscape architect to educate, inform, and raise awareness, and this was what led me to sign up to volunteer

    What led you to volunteer for the LI?

    Two years ago I felt the urge to raise awareness about landscape education and our profession in general. I started to realise that not many people know what the landscape profession is about – even people from within the engineering industry are not aware of what we do, and some even ignore its importance. I felt it was part of my duties as a landscape architect to educate, inform, and raise awareness, and this was what led me to sign up to volunteer as an Ambassador for Landscape.

    What are some of your proudest achievements as a volunteer?

    In 2017, I volunteered as a mentor for the ‘Green Plan It’ competition run by the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS). This was a school-based competition in which a professional from the industry partnered with a secondary school in London to run a landscape project. Farrer Huxley Associates, the company I had been working for, was very happy for me to join the competition, and for about three months I mentored Swanlea School in East London, helping to design a balcony garden for the Bengali community.

    The project won the first prize for concept and execution – but that was not just it! The pride for me came when the team and their teacher Chris Nairn decided to take the project a step further, applying for funding, getting the actual project built and entering Hampton Court Palace Flower Show. This was such a great achievement for a team of secondary school students. I was overwhelmed, and very happy that a landscape design project had motivated them so strongly. They enjoyed this so much.

    How has volunteering enriched your work, and vice versa?

    Volunteering has changed the focus of my work from ‘Me’ to ‘Us’. I learnt to work for a common cause and as part of a team; I learnt to rise above difficulties and help to build support for a network which will also offer support when you need it. There is great value in this, as team-building is so important in any professional environment. On the other hand, my work has enriched my volunteering activity by contributing knowledge and expertise from the professional environment and enabling me to share it with people with different skills.

    What role do you think volunteers play in professional organisations? How do you feel this role has changed and how might it change in the future?

    The role of volunteering is increasingly becoming a strategically important tool for the development of communities. Many institutions and charities currently rely on their volunteers and the time they contribute and this will increase in the years to come, when community development will be on the focus.

    It is important to remember that being a volunteer, in any sector, does not make your work and contribution less valuable or less meaningful than a paid professional. On the contrary: as a volunteer, you are still expected to act with professionalism in mind.

    The most significant value volunteers bring in professional organisations is that they help build a network of support. This network may not have been in place if it had not been for the wonderful work of people volunteering, offering the skills they are amazing at for the common good: for us.

    Finally, what would you like to tell others about volunteering?

    I would encourage people to volunteer for a cause they are really passionate about. Whether they decide to volunteer because they want to develop new skills or because they want to give back to a community is of no importance, as long as they do it wholeheartedly. I cannot stress this enough: be passionate about what you really care about. This is the best way to enjoy any experience, contribute and ultimately make a real difference.

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