01 June 2015 by Guest blogger
Award winner David Howarth reflects on the achievements of the Isle of Wight Ramblers and receiving the Running the Ramblers award.
Today is one of those champagne moments that you get from time to time when you volunteer. I am proud of the achievements of the Isle of Wight Ramblers and honoured to be receiving the Running the Ramblers President’s Award.
We all volunteer for different reasons. It is great to support a cause that you feel passionate about. But, there are also other opportunities to learn new skills, socialise and make new friends - part of our continuous development.
I took early retirement in 1998 at the age of just 50, knowing that I could dedicate my time and energy to charitable work.
I was membership secretary of the Chiltern Society, a conservation group dedicated to maintaining the beauty of the Chiltern Hills and improving access for everyone. During the next few years I was able to learn many new skills and campaigned to protect the countryside.
The society had a rights of way group which supplemented the work of the Ramblers local groups. I also joined the Ramblers and led walks in the Chilterns.
In 2008, I decided to move to the Isle of Wight, not knowing anyone there. It was a solitary time but, within weeks of my move, I had joined the Isle of Wight Ramblers area council and then elected as Area Chairman at the AGM.
Improving access for everyone
My plan was to improve access for everyone and to raise the profile of the organisation by being at the heart of the community.
We introduced a Donate a Gate scheme where the public provide gates to replace stiles. This has been a very popular scheme and has created tremendous publicity as well as £55,000 in donations. Last weekend we opened our 100th gate. The scheme has been well supported by the community and recognised with local awards and also the Queens Award for Voluntary Service.
Another champagne moment occurred when the Earl of Wessex presented this award at Carisbrooke Castle. The scheme has also supported the creation of three accessible trails on the island, at a cost of over £70,000. This has been achieved by match funding of grants.
During the last five years we have been heavily involved in campaigning to be included in the English Coastal path scheme. Incredibly, we were told that the Island was not a priority for the scheme. Along with our staff colleagues, we battled to persuade the government that the island was worthy of inclusion, and after two consultations, the Island will now be added to the programme, with work starting in 2017.
Today, we work closely with the community, organising walks with others, and inviting everyone to join us on a monthly walk which we publish in the local paper. And yes, I have made many new friends and really feel that I am making a contribution to Island life.
So thank you Kate for the award, and to Mike Slater who recently took over as Area Chairman who nominated me for this award. And a big thank you to everyone who voted.