Thursday, 7 July 2016

Journey through London - Day 5

Thursday - our last full day of our Journey through London! Today was our Service Project day in the local community. 

After breakfast and Flag, we all walked up to Hampstead Heath to meet Colin, the Projects and Volunteer Manager of Heath Hands, a charity which looks after the Heath. He explained that a plant called Himalayan balsam competes with native plant species for space, light, nutrients and pollinators. Not only does it take over and exclude other plants, but it also dies back to bare earth at the end of the year and causes soil erosion. He showed us what it looked like and explained how to pull it up from the root and break the stems so the plants would die and not reseed. We put on our gloves and got to work. First our group cleared a section by a stream. After a busy few days in the city, it was lovely to enjoy the sunshine and the relaxing calm of working away pulling plants and clearing the ground. The plant looks really pretty but we all remembered that Colin said every plant gives off 300-400 new seeds a year, so they had to go!

Colin came back at lunch-time and brought us all to an open area of the Heath for squash and biscuits. It was quite funny walking along because all of a sudden we could spot patches of balsam everywhere and we couldn't help pulling up a few more plants as we passed. Colin told us about the history of Hampstead Heath, which was very interesting. By now it was nearly lunch-time so we ate our picnic lunches. The afternoon programme was an optional treasure hunt-type challenge around Hampstead, but we decided to ask Colin if we could stay on and clear a few more patches of balsam instead, as it really was relaxing! 

The rest of the group went off for the afternoon while the Irish contingent got back to work. Colin gave us high-viz jackets and gloves and left us to it. We managed to clear two large sections along a walkway. It felt great that lots of passers-by commented on the good work we were doing and we explained to them that we were Irish Girl Guides staying in Pax Lodge. We even managed to recruit a new volunteer for Heath Hands! By the time we got back to Pax, we were sweaty and muddy and ready for our showers.

Then it was time for the BBQ party, the closing ceremony and SWAPS! The rain held off and we got to eat outside as a whole group for the last time. After a dinner of burgers and sausages (and chocolate cake!), we exchanged SWAPS. Luckily for us, the majority of the group were American so everybody wanted to swap with us! We got loads of cool badges, pins and keyrings from the other girls and Leaders. 

The closing ceremony began with a slideshow of pictures showing our group throughout the event. It was really cute and everybody was laughing, but a few tears were definitely shed too! The Pax Lodge team had prepared certificates for each of us, so we were called up one by one to receive these. The Journey through London event came to an end with a pinning ceremony, where we were each given a special Pax Lodge 25th anniversary pin before singing Taps. 

After some tearful group hugs and goodbyes, we headed to the London Room again with some of our Californian friends. 

~ Clodagh Butler and Nia Daly, Kinsale, Co Cork

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