Volunteers like Pauline Holden welcome thousands of visitors to Chester Zoo each year – and help spread the important message about sustainable palm oil at the same time.
Since 2015, volunteers at the zoo have been a key part of a programme to educate visitors about conservation. In 2019 alone, 247 volunteers gave up 27,857 hours of their time to interact with 369,703 visitors.
The programme shows visitors ways they can make small changes in their daily routines to make a big impact and help create a greener and cleaner environment.
Cheshire West Voluntary Action (CWVA), in partnership with Cheshire West and Chester Council, is running a Year of Volunteering campaign, aiming to raise the profile of volunteering and increase the number of opportunities available across the borough. CWVA’s volunteer-matching website helps people find the right opportunity for them and each month during the campaign will focus on a different theme
Pauline, who has volunteered at Chester Zoo since the education programme began, has learnt a lot herself.
“At the beginning, I didn’t know what palm oil was, but a lot more people know about it now and we need to keep on sharing the message through our campaign,” she said.
“By getting involved with the festivals and workshops we run at the zoo, we’re showing how precious sustainable palm oil is and how important it is that we buy it.
“We do all sorts of wonderful things here and our work educating visitors about conservation is certainly one of them.”
Many school children visit the zoo each year as part of the education programme, with some handy toolkits put together to help them learn about sustainable palm oil.
Pauline said: “It’s amazing what they remember and take back to school with them.
“We have some interactive boards to show the children and we ask them which products use palm oil. The answer is all of them, but people would never think some of the products contain palm oil.
“In places like Malaysia and Indonesia, palm oil is a big part of the economy but, as they’re planting more trees, it has a negative impact on the habitats of animals unless it’s produced sustainably.
“It’s all about trying to change people’s behaviours and encouraging them to reduce their carbon footprint.”
Pauline works as a Mental Health Nurse in her full-time job and volunteering allows her to support the community in her spare time.
“For me, it’s about giving something back,” she added.
“I’ve met new people, learnt new skills and it certainly helps with my own mental health.
“Everybody who visits the zoo is really happy as they’re coming for a fun day out. It’s nice to see that and share their day with them.
“Once you get involved, there are a lot of great things you can do and I talk a lot more to people about volunteering now.
“It’s a good way to get involved and it’s great for people to put on their CV when they’re looking to get into work.”