Paul and his daughters litter picking in the drained lagoon

This article by Nicole Slawson was first published at the Huffington Post website on 23rd February 2019

The park gardener

Paul Williams is a police detective by day, and a gardening volunteer by night (and weekends). 

The 42-year-old father of two began volunteering at Poole Park in Dorset two years ago. His family live in a block of flats that overlook the park, and they treat it as their back garden.

When the council secured funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund to improve and enhance the large Victorian-built green space, they did a call-out for volunteers to help. It came at the right time for Williams, who was keen to give something back to the park he used so much. 

There are paid council staff too, but Williams says they “tend to save up” the weeding for the volunteers. “They are good fun though and they really appreciate it,” he added.

Without the funding and the volunteers, the park wouldn’t have seen so many improvements. “[The council] have probably had to cut back as well I would think,” he said.

“In all services, even in the police, I see a lack of resources and no money coming in anymore. Even we rely on volunteers to wash our cars and stuff like that. I think we all do need a helping hand from other people who want to give their time.”

He added that he thought volunteering would become even more common in the future. “I suppose there’s a cross section in every society who are generous and want to give back, while others don’t want to do anything at all and just hate it all, but I think that’s the same in any country.

“There certainly seems to be a good sort of spirit among us lot but if you weren’t a giving back kind of person, you wouldn’t get involved in volunteering. You just wouldn’t do it.”

He enjoys taking his children to see what he has been working on – a sensory “quiet garden”, and a war memorial. 

“If they ever have a session at the weekends, I might take the kids over and get them involved. I have done that in the past.”

Volunteering also helps him cope with his stressful job. “It’s totally different from what I do for work. It’s a chance for me to give something back to the community instead of lock them up,” he said. 

“It’s therapeutic really. I can just go over there and mess about and carry some big rocks around and stuff like that. For me, it’s a chance to switch off and do a bit of a brainless activity that I can do to release from the day’s stresses.”

Poole Park Gardening Volunteers

The full article entitled ‘As Austerity Strips Public Services, These Volunteers Are Keeping Britain Running’ includes four other case studies from around the UK; it can be found at but please be aware the website attempts to download a large number of cookies to your computer on visiting.

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