Volunteer Experience at Burrator – By Stephen Barrow



Following retirement and relocation to Tavistock from Bristol, where I had lived all my life, I needed to find something to do to keep active, both physically and mentally. In the Devon area there are numerous opportunities for volunteering as advertised on various websites, from Tidying Tavy to Dartmoor Preservation Association, both of which I am now involved with. I saw an article in the Tavistock Gazette and Times that a new Heritage Lottery Funded (HLF) project was about to be implemented by South West Lakes Trust (SWLT) at Burrator Reservoir and volunteers were needed to assist with the development of this task.

Having previously been involved with a large HLF project in Bristol, the Burrator proposals looked inviting so, following an open day at Burrator Lodge, I had a meeting with Emily Cannon, Burrator Heritage Learning Officer, who explained what was required and was of the opinion I could be of use!

The first few volunteer days I attended at Burrator were practical tasks, gorse clearing (and burning) and tree guard removal. I then became involved with the development of the Discovery Centre interpretation project, carrying out research into the history of the reservoir and, in particular, the leats, construction of the dams and the Yelverton to Princetown railway. This information was reviewed by the Interpretation consultants, Smith and Jones, and has now been incorporated into the Discovery Centre displays.


Following on from the celebrations of opening the centre in June 2014, I have been regularly assisting the Centre staff as a volunteer guide one day a week, meeting visitors, explaining what the centre has to offer and answering questions. In addition, between visitors I also help the staff with administration tasks, investigation and designs for improvements and projects for the Centre, as well as carrying out minor maintenance jobs.

If days at the Centre were not enough I also take part in regular practical volunteer days around the SWLT Burrator area carrying out various landscape management tasks. There have also been a number of Rural Skill days which I have attended, including coppicing, charcoal burning, cob oven building, hedging, stone walling and cleft fencing. I have also spent days building bird boxes and reindeers as well as other outdoor art work.

So, what keeps a volunteer coming back? Apart from the initial reasons noted above to keep physically and mentally active, you meet people that you would not normally see and you get to be a part of a different and varied work environment, without the previous pressures of employment, learning new skills. There is also a good level of camaraderie and you get to work with friendly and supportive staff.


It would appear that my involvement has, to date, been appreciated by the Burrator management as I was presented with an award at the 2015 South West Lakes Trust Volunteers’ Celebration.

Hopefully I will be able to continue for the foreseeable future supporting the work achieved through the HLF project and help promote and develop the Discovery Centre to become a much visited centre of information and learning on Dartmoor.

If you would like to find out more about the different volunteering opportunities available at Burrator Reservoir with South West Lakes Trust please ring 01822 855700, email Hannah at bdcenquiries@swlakestrust.org.uk or just pop into the centre for an informal chat.