Sophie Locke talks to Colin Lincoln, a lifetime dedicated to nature, keeping Harlow green
“Volunteer work is crucial to keeping our green spaces, and a number of us now meet up several times a week to keep our town flourishing.”
Finding our path in life can take years and many a wrong turn. We’ve all experienced those hideous first, part-time jobs; the check outs, the clock watching and the odd fragrant customer. Then comes the nine to five all day, every day; again clock watching, but on a better salary.
Earlier in the year an article in The Times stated that the average person would experience six job changes within in their lifetime, with the added bonus of one office romance and three bouts of stress induced anxiety. So today, how many of us can say hand on heart they’re in the profession they started off dreaming about as bleary eyed teenager, saving up money for trainers, records and bribing your older brother into buying you cigarettes.
Colin Lincoln, 72, from Potter Street, is one of the exceptions. Born and bred in Harlow he has seen the town rise up from its country roots and witnessed the dynamic effect of each passing decade. His childhood love of agriculture has lasted a life time and even now in retirement, he spends numerous hours tending to the green spaces of Harlow.
“I’ve lived here all my life,” explains Colin, “and I think seeing it evolve from a rural town had quite a big impact on me. I loved seeing it change, but I wanted to maintain some of its original features; and Harlow does have some remarkable parkland.”
Leaving school at the age 15 Colin began working at his grandfather’s nursery near Latton Bush, who provided flowers for the sprawling London markets. “From those first few days I was hooked and since then I have spent my whole working life with plants. I’ve always felt such a natural connection with the environment around me.”
Unfortunately after 11 years, the town’s need for more and more land to develop on eventually swallowed up his grandfather’s nursery and he was left jobless. “I’d spent years working with plants, as well as in my spare time. I couldn’t see what else I would do with my future as this was my true passion. So I approached the Harlow Council and through some miracle was able to bag a job looking after local parks and the town nursery.”
Colin’s enthusiasm for wildlife and restoration has seen him through nearly 40 years’ service to Harlow Council, rebuilding nurseries and tending to seedlings in the winter months. And even though we may admire his dedication, it’s the work in his later years that has really captured the hearts of some of Harlow’s residents.
“Four years before my retirement I became the Nature Reserve Warden at Parndon Wood, and that’s when I became really involved in a number of wildlife volunteer groups.” It’s not common knowledge to many, but Council funding for nature projects has severely dwindled within Essex, and a lot of the maintenance on flower beds and parks is carried out purely by volunteers. “Volunteer work is crucial to keeping our green spaces, and a number of us now meet up several times a week to keep our town flourishing.”
Colin didn’t let retirement slow him down, in fact he took that spare time and cultivated it into several now well run projects aimed at restoring some of the more wild and rugged areas of Harlow. “When I retired I had free range to develop my own projects and ideas and I fortunately had the backing of like-minded people. For instance, I wanted to improve the meadows along the River Stort and thanks to some grant funding I and other volunteers got to make that a reality. We now even have the Harlow Wildlife Project that specifically focuses on that type of maintenance.”
From that moment the ball started rolling for Colin and the other members of the 26-year strong Harlow Conservation Volunteers (HCV); a powerhouse green team who are dedicated to the nature surrounding Harlow. A successful application to the Big Lottery Fund snared the group £50,000 to be spent on new footpaths around Harlow as well as providing open pools and reed beds to encourage our town’s natural wildlife; even today the Harlow Wildlife Project work closely with the Essex Biodiversity Project when approaching new conservation ventures.
But despite their success, Colin is keen to get younger people involved in their programmes. “Of course we are always looking for volunteers, we’re all getting old and need the young ones to take over!” Colin jokes but his message is true. The HCV and Harlow Wildlife Project need people to take over from them and not let their years of hard work and campaigning go to waste. “A lot of people, as previously mentioned, don’t realise that it’s volunteers who run the greenery in our town, they think it’s the Council so don’t even bother learning about us. That can worry me.”
Both projects have promoted their work in the town library, Harlow College and throughout Harlow town centre, but are always on the lookout for keen, young green-fingered enthusiasts, “we need to educate people into not just enjoying the view, but becoming a part of it.”
Colin is a true inspiration; he took a hobby he had at the tender age of 15 and let it flourish, if you excuse the pun. Not only was he fortunate enough to find his niche young, but he did everything in his power to turn it into a career. So maybe the next time you’re staring out of the office window or wishing the weekend nearer, you could think of Colin and draw on his drive and focus to find your passion and run with it.
If you would like to become a part of the Harlow Conversation Volunteers or the Harlow Wildlife Project visit www.harlowwildlife.org.uk