Tributes paid to the environmental Guardians of the South Wales Valleys — after 10,000 hours of service

Valleys Regional Park (VRP) and Groundwork Wales have celebrated that its network of community volunteers — the Guardians — have completed nearly 10,000* hours of voluntary work over the last three years.

To commemorate this achievement — as well as the 399,497 sq. metres of land improved by the green volunteers* — this week (29 March), VRP hosted a special ceremonial event.

Held at Bryngarw House in Bridgend, the event celebrated participants of the Valleys Regional Park’s Guardians Scheme, delivered by Groundwork Wales — who are dedicated to engaging with, protecting, and developing the local, natural environments of the South Wales Valleys.

Since 2020, the Guardians have tackled everything from pond restoration and bridge building to pathway maintenance, and wildlife habitat creation and conservation.

Through these activities, the Scheme has supported participants to develop conservation skills, eco-literacy and confidence and improved their employability — all while aiding the climate and nature emergency and securing a 78.5%* wellbeing improvement rate among all participants.

This week’s event saw volunteers, stakeholders and dignitaries come together under one roof at Bryngarw House, to celebrate these achievements.

Alan Redfern, a 76-year-old Guardians volunteer, commented on the Scheme and the positive impact it’s had on his wellbeing since joining in September 2022. He said: “A year after retiring, I found myself in a bad place — I needed something else to put my time and effort into.

“I was invited to a Guardians Scheme meeting where I registered for my first session. And I have to say, I’ve never looked back. The sessions bring me empowerment, allow me to help myself, help others — and they get me out of my wife’s way for a day!”

Luke Garrood, a Guardians volunteer since March 2022, said: “The Scheme means a lot to me because I get to meet new people and learn new skills. And after volunteering at Dare Valley Country Park for a few days a week, I was offered a part-time job at the on-site café.

“Because I’m autistic, I’ve found it hard to find employment — but thanks to the Scheme, I now have a job where I feel comfortable, more mature and which has bettered me as a person.”

Julie Smith also shared her experiences with the scheme: “A friend recommended the Guardians Scheme sessions to get me interacting with people again, doing something which I had a genuine interest in — spending time outdoors.

“If I hadn’t gained that confidence and spent time at the sessions, my career would probably never have left the hospitality industry. By now, I’ve turned a hobby into a career and work at the local garden centre. I never thought I’d be very good at it, but it turns out that I am!”

Councillor Anthony Hunt, Chair of the Valleys Regional Park Executive Board and Leader of Torfaen Council, added: “Since the Scheme’s launch in 2021, I have continually been inspired by the impact that the Guardians Scheme sessions have had — in addition to the commitment and enthusiasm of the volunteers.

“The Guardians Scheme is creating vital recreational and skills-based learning opportunities across the Valleys — arming communities with crucial information on how to care for our rich natural habitats and landscapes, so that they can be enjoyed for years to come.”

The Valleys Regional Park Guardians Scheme, delivered by Groundwork Wales, has received funding through the Welsh Government Rural Communities – Rural Development Programme 2014-2020, which is funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and the Welsh Government.

For more information about the Valleys Regional Park Guardians Scheme, delivered by Groundwork Wales, please visit: valleysregionalpark.wales/spending-time-in-the-valleys/vrp-guardians/

*Statistics taken from Groundwork Wales quarterly reports, accounting for the Guardians Scheme pilot in 2020 to work undertaken at Discovery Gateways, Wellies in the Woods sessions and Big Bocs Bwyd programme delivery until December 2022.