Cecilia Samuels, one of a group of volunteers who spent a day at Minsteracres under the Department of Work and Pensions Community 10000 scheme, writes about their visit:

When a colleague suggested we get involved in a Community 10000 day it seemed, as these things always do, like a Good Idea!

Fast forward a few months, and it was decided we would spend out time at Minsteracres, a retreat house in Northumberland.

The date was set and we were advised we would be helping in the grounds. Naively, I thought our day would involve pottering around in greenhouses, pricking out a few seedlings, nothing more strenuous than perhaps mowing a lawn. (my lack of knowledge of gardening is very apparent by the fact that I thought there would be seedlings in late September).

So, the appointed day found 12 fraud investigators completely out of their usual surroundings in the beautiful grounds at Minsteracres. The sun was shining, our enthusiasm knew no bounds and we were looking forward to something completely different in the working day. We met with Andy Pennington, and two volunteers who attend a few days each week.

We were informed that we would be
• Digging footings for a wall
• Constructing part of a drystone wall
• Clearing trees, bushes, weeds
• Using bow saws, loppers, pickaxes, and a machete type of implement
• Burning everything on a bonfire

It sounded as if we were expected to do hard physical graft with dangerous tools, fires and only a small first aid kit. That couldn’t be right, we’re civil servants, everything is risk assessed and managed, yet we were going to be let loose to inflict all kinds of damage on the grounds, but hopefully not ourselves!

We were shown the area we were to clear and after donning our gardening gloves – the only protection we had – we were off.

A huge rhododendron was our first victim, and while cutting it down we disturbed a wasps’ nest, so Keith was a wasp’s first victim.

A line was plotted showing where the wall footing needed to be and a few hardy souls started digging out foundations. Others were employed clearing nettles and laurels from the base of the centuries old sequoia trees. Everything then needed barrowing to the fire which was getting more ferocious by the minute.

We quickly fell into a routine of clearing, moving, burning. It was hard, physical work, but we enjoyed it immensely. We broke for lunch in the peace garden and all agreed the tea/coffee tasted so good because we had built up such a thirst.

We were then back to work clearing an ever increasing area of land and being instructed in the art of drystone walling.

By 4pm we had hit a brick wall (pun intended) and started to pack away. We were impressed at the difference we had made in one day and felt a great sense of achievement which far outweighed the discomfort of physical exertion, wasp and nettle stings, and stinging eyes from the bonfire.

In conclusion, the day was very different to our expectations, but definitely enjoyable. We would all recommend it as very worthwhile. It’s amazing what you can accomplish in a short space of time.

Go on, give it a try.”