After many years as a business analyst and project manager for big companies, Stephen Lodge felt thwarted by the speed of technology.
“I worked at telecoms, finance and tech companies but things changed so quickly that many projects were scrapped before completion – the market and technology had moved on so the job had different requirements. You’d never see the results of your work,” says Stephen, who was also tired of working indoors in offices.
“I wanted to move to something hands-on where I was in control and saw results.”
In 2009 he started studying landscaping full time and gardening part time. He set up his own gardening business and continued studying by adding a two-year diploma in landscape design. His business became a little quiet in winter but was crazily busy in summer, so he kept an eye out for part-time winter work – and part-time gardening for Sydney Community Services came up.
As a Gardening Team Leader, Stephen takes groups of volunteers to tidy up gardens from The Spit at Mosman, through Neutral Bay, North Sydney and Wollstonecraft back to Willoughby and Roseville. Since the virus landed, he’s not taking the volunteers and is instead working on smaller gardens in townhouses and ground-floor flats.
Usually the role of gardening team leader includes forward planning, booking jobs and supervising from one up to 10 volunteers, training inexperienced volunteers, exchanging ideas with others, and applying everyone’s energy to shape a garden to be more manageable. It’s all done at a subsidised rate for seniors or people with a disability who can’t wrangle their garden by themselves.
Stephen’s role also involves inspiring schoolchildren, including some who have a disability, to get stuck into a garden that needs their help. All under watchful supervision of course.
“One of our regular volunteers is a chap with Asperger’s, who really misses it if weather or Xmas break stops his gardening. He used to be quiet when he joined us and now has come out of his shell.”
SCS gardening service makes people’s grounds more manageable, more accessible and safer by tackling weeds that could quickly take over, trimming and clearing pathways, removing trip hazards and the like.
“It’s not a regular service about making an ornamental garden pretty, it’s for people who can’t manage their garden themselves and need help with maintenance.”
“I like the people – the volunteers and the clients. For volunteers it’s quite a social meeting, it makes people happy so it’s an enjoyable environment as well as being outdoors.
“Above all else I love working with the clients, and giving back to the community. When I was younger, I looked after my father as he aged and found him a new place to live when he was diagnosed with dementia. There’s a lot about that experience that’s universal so I’ve found I relate well to clients and their families.”
Prior to Covid-19, the gardeners went out with volunteers, and sometimes Stephen needed to put people at ease about having a bunch of strangers working in the garden.
“Of course we invite them to have a cuppa with us,” says Stephen.
Sometimes there’s a fair bit of advice sought about other trades and jobs, too. Does he have a fabulous garden at home? No, Stephen does have a garden but he’s planning to move – so he puts everything into other people’s gardens.
If you’re interested in finding out more about gardening services or volunteering with our gardening teams, see our gardening page online
Or find out about other volunteering options by calling us on 9427 6425 or visiting our website here