"I’ve worked as a volunteer on and off through my whole life and it’s been an amazing experience. It started when I was in my teens and we took our family holidays in Wales near a steam railway. I got a job working on the buffet car. This was where I learned the first of many talents gained through volunteering – how to balance a tray of drinks in a moving vehicle!
"When I gave up a full-time office job to become a writer I quickly realised that I was going to miss working with other people. Writing can be a solitary profession even in these days of social media. Volunteering with the National Trust seemed the perfect way to combine my passion for history with the fun of getting out and meeting people. I went to work as a volunteer guide at Ashdown House, a 17th century hunting lodge was just down the road from me. It was exactly what I was looking for – a way to share my love of history with people who had come to experience a great day out in a beautiful historic setting. The house and its history drew me in and inspired my book House of Shadows.
"I work at Ashdown a couple of Saturdays per month and usually take two or three guided tours around the house, answer visitors’ questions and make sure that they have a great visit. We’re a small team so we do everything from arranging car parking to selling tickets and guidebooks to directing people to the nearest teashop. To begin with standing up in front of a group of 30 people and telling them the story of the house was daunting, but after a while I realised that the important qualities were to connect with the visitors and tell them an interesting story. They are so full of excitement and enthusiasm and have lots to tell us as well – tales of their family ties to the house or things they know about the portraits or the items in the collection. We learn as much from our visitors as from all the other research we do.
"A few years after starting work for the National Trust I also became involved with Guide Dogs as a volunteer puppy walker. It’s a hugely rewarding job. Seeing a puppy grow from six weeks old to become a clever, patient and reliable companion that will make a huge difference to the life of a blind or partially sighted person fills me with awe. That isn’t to say that being a puppy walker isn’t also challenging at times. Guide dog puppies are like any other dogs sometimes, naughty, wilful and into everything. I have fond memories of taking one puppy on a training walk when he dived off into the bushes and emerged triumphantly with a dead rabbit in his jaws. The more I tried to take it from him the more he clung onto it and the bigger the crowd of onlookers became! It’s a huge responsibility to walk an assistance dog puppy and requires lots of time and effort, At first that made me nervous but the reward of seeing the dogs graduate was worth every anxious moment.
"I’d recommend volunteering to anyone looking to meet people, make friends, be part of a team or share their passion. It’s been a hugely fulfilling part of my life."
House of Shadows by Nicola Cornick is out now (Paperback £7.99, Mira)
For more real life stories, pick up the latest copy of Yours