VOLUNTEERS FROM a Wales-wide recovery and employability programme are picking up a fresh insight into the Secret Life of the Chester Zoo as part of a new tie-up with the major attraction.
Keilie Wycherley is one of a group who are giving their own time to help thousands of daytrippers enjoy their visit, enhance the zoo’s conservation efforts, and develop their own skills.
She is a participant in the Cyfle Cymru project, which helps people with experience of mental illness and substance misuse issues take steps towards employment.
The group is part of this year’s huge volunteer intake at busy Chester Zoo – where animals and keepers have recently been the stars of a behind-the-scenes Channel 4 documentary series.
Cyfle Cymru participants have completed a thorough volunteering training programme, and are now helping visitors learn more about the 500 species and 15,000 animals at the site.
Keilie, who used drugs for more than 20 years, was introduced to the opportunity by her peer mentor George James.
“I love it – it is really good and a fantastic opportunity,” she said. “I was interested from the first time George mentioned it to me.
“It is nice to do something which is totally different – which isn’t about my recovery – and it is something which is quite therapeutic.
“It’s great to go down there and help out, even if it’s just for a few hours a week volunteering.
“On my last shift, I was in the Islands area and was right by some of the tigers. I was able to tell visitors a little bit about the animals and to use some of the aids to help get the children involved.
“All the visitors have come to the zoo for a great day out so it’s just a really happy place to be – and the animals are lovely!”
Cyfle Cymru offers effective peer mentoring, training and confidence-building life skills.
“It’s been great for learning people skills again,” said 41-year-old Keilie, from New Broughton. “When you’re in addiction, you isolate yourself – you don’t want to interact with people.
“So you have to learn those people skills again, like having a conversation and looking people in the eye.
“Volunteering at the zoo has been a fantastic opportunity. If anyone is looking into volunteering then I would really recommend it.”
George said the volunteers had a fantastic time during their training, and wished all participants the best of luck with a “great opportunity”.
“I’m so proud of them and the commitment they have shown,” he said.
Cyfle Cymru is part of the Welsh Government’s EU-funded Out of Work Service, and is being delivered by the DACW partnership across the North Wales, Powys, Dyfed, Western Bay and Gwent areas.
The programme has already helped more than 1,700 people in Wales and delivered in excess of 17,000 hours of support in the community.
Cyfle Cymru is delivered by members of the DACW Consortium.
Cyfle Cymru is part of the Welsh Government’s Out of Work Service, supported by the European Social Fund.