Chippy Green Gym.
It’s not really a gym. It’s definitely not a chippy. And upon first glance, it’s a name that didn’t mean very much to me at all.
But as I read on through the website, things quickly became apparent. And in terms of getting my mark-making* volunteering adventure up and running, it ticked every box.
Chippy Green Gym is a wonderful, independent community group that works on environmental conservation projects in Chipping Norton (‘Chippy’) and the surrounding area. Its aim is for people of all ages and fitness levels to “have fun and get some exercise and fresh air while helping to care for the environment”.
What could be better?
As a man lucky enough to have grown up in the wilds of the Pennines, the great outdoors was always where I’d be putting my own volunteering efforts to use – and playing a part in its conservation was the cherry on top.
I got in touch with a lovely lady named Jenny, who’s the group’s Membership Secretary. Two weeks later, I was walking through Chippy High Street, spade and secateurs in hand, on my way to begin my first shift with the Green Gym.
A morning to remember
Fitzalan Wood was my destination – a secluded, one-acre corner of the town’s old common land, now cut adrift by an unfortunate stretch of road. For years, this small tract of land was an unloved, untouched wasteland. Then, in 2013, along came the Green Gym. Over a two-year period, its dutiful volunteers painstakingly cleared the land, before planting over 400 trees.
Cut to 2021 and Fitzalan is a beautiful, thriving woodland and habitat for some incredible wildlife. My task for the day was to help keep it this way, by hacking weeds, pollarding trees, clearing wood, tidying paths, and exposing the beautiful brook that runs through from the main common.
On arrival, I was greeted by the people responsible for creating this stunning site in the first place. And the scale of their achievement left me feeling like I didn’t really belong among them. They, however, had a very different view and went out of their way to make me feel welcome. It worked!
In every sense, this is an absolutely fantastic bunch of people – and I felt proud to be lending them a hand. They happily sharpened my dodgy equipment. They taught me how to use new kit (including an old-school scythe, which was awesome). They chatted to me about mark-making* and my family. They even offered me cake.
What warmed my heart most as the morning went on, though, was the steely determination everyone shared for getting the job done. Make no mistake, this was a hard slog. For the first time, I understood why this was the Green Gym.
My pathetic, office-dwelling limbs were not living their best lives. But there’s nothing like standing alongside someone deep into their sixties, who’s hacking away without a care in the world, to make you dip into your reserve tanks.
Anyway, several hours later (and with the sun seemingly having taken a wrong turn on its way to Burkina-Faso), we were done. What began the morning looking beautiful but wild, was now looking beautiful and manicured. The trees were no longer being suffocated. The ground was getting the light it’d been craving. And the brook was babbling in full view of all who stood before her.
A little corner of Chippy made perfect again. All done without the town’s inhabitants seeing a thing. I felt like a conservation ninja. In reality, I was a sweaty, shattered, mildly sunburnt mess.
I’m not the man I once was. But I do knock out a cracking digital banner.
An afternoon to savour the experience
As I returned to what constitutes a ‘normal’ day, I sat at my desk reflecting on what had been an unforgettable experience. Although I don’t live in Chippy, I’ve come to love the place – and I was overjoyed to have played a small part in contributing to the upkeep of its unique charm.
I was even more chuffed, however, to have met a group of selfless people who do this each and every week, without any reason other than their love of conservation and the community. Genuinely inspiring, by my reckoning.
We talk a lot in our agency about leaving goodmarks* whenever we do something. And this is exactly what my stint at Fitzalan Wood had allowed us to achieve. It definitely won’t be my last trip there. And it definitely won’t be my last session with what can only be described as a sensational bunch.
Chippy Green Gym, I salute you.