Work Party Volunteer Information

Going on a work party

We have prepared advice and guidance for volunteers attending a work party. This explains what we expect of you and, perhaps more importantly, what you should expect from us.

The purpose of this guidance is to help you understand:
  • What a work party is
  • What you can expect at a work party
  • What we expect from you
  • Some information to make life more comfortable whilst you are there.
  • How you can make a difference to the MBA and
  • How you can get the most from what should be a really rewarding experience

The MBA is an organisation supported and run by volunteers. There are many reasons why you might volunteer to help the MBA and help at a work party. We want it to be a rewarding experience, and most of all, for you to enjoy it.

Every bothy has one or more Maintenance Organisers, but it is not up to them to do all the work required to keep the building weather tight. Just as we rely heavily on our members to report problems after visiting a bothy, so we rely on volunteers coming forward to help with the work. The work party is a mainstay of the association. Without them very little could be achieved.

Work parties happen most frequently in the summer months, when the weather is kinder and the days longer. The work undertaken varies enormously, from the complete rebuilding of a ruin, through reroofing, installation of stoves, laying concrete floors, replacing windows, drainage, to a lick of paint and a general tidy. It is rare that there isn’t more than enough to do to fill the time available and extra help is always welcome.

People with building skills are very welcome, but no more so than the person who will carry sand or gravel all day, or the one who boils water for a brew. There is always a chance to show willing. A work party is a place to demonstrate your skills or pick up new ones, and grow in confidence.

Most work parties last over a weekend, but bigger projects may need a concentrated effort lasting a week or a fortnight, or different work parties over several weekends. It all depends on the nature of the work and the accessibility of the bothy. Some work parties have at least some catering organised for the volunteers. This is a way of showing appreciation to the members who come and help. Work parties also have their social side. Outside of area meetings and the Annual General Meeting a work party is the best chance you have of meeting fellow members of the Association, of getting to know each other and exchanging views. Many friendships have been forged at work parties and the chance of seeing familiar faces is a strong incentive to attend future projects.

To find out when work parties will take place, take a look in the latest issue of the newsletter, under the Area News, or look at the Work Party Information page in this section of the website. If you prefer, and you are interested in working on a particular project or in a particular area of the country, get in contact with the relevant Project Organiser or Area Organiser. Help is always welcome and offers of help are always well received. This is your Association and without your help there would not be many bothies left.

How it works

Work is organised by a Project Organiser. This person may also be a Maintenance Organiser or an Area Organiser, but when we mention the word ‘organiser’ in this document we mean the Project Organiser. This is the person responsible for seeing the work is done. We use the word `project’ to mean either the renovation of a new bothy or the refurbishment of an existing MBA bothy.
Naturally there is some paperwork before every work party. One of the key documents is the Work Party Plan, which must be approved by the Area Organiser and the Director of Projects before the work can start.

The purpose of the Work Party Plan is to demonstrate how the Project Organiser plans for the work to be completed successfully and safely. (And it is checked to see if any further advice can help the project run better). It describes the work to be done and how each task is to be undertaken. It identifies the main risks and what steps will be taken to address them. It also considers what skills will be required and the general welfare of those volunteers attending.

There is also a register for volunteer attendance and every work party also has a Casualty Evacuation Plan. This is a simple form giving details of the easiest way to summon help and evacuate a casualty. The organiser will have taken note of how best to summon help, and this may include the use of a satellite phone.

What to do first

Before coming on the work party please get in touch with the organiser. This might seem obvious but it’s good for both you and the organiser. If it’s your first time it’s good to discuss what skills you will bring and what you might expect when you get there.

It also helps if you are a bit unsure about anything at all. Simply getting there can be a challenge sometimes and the organiser may be able to help in bringing people together to make it easier.

This contact can be made by email but a telephone call and a chat on the phone is often the best way to get the most out of it.

At the Work Party

The organiser is in overall charge of the site. At the beginning of a work party the organiser will hold a briefing to discuss what he or she hopes to achieve in the time available. The organiser will usually have planned in advance who will lead the main tasks for completion. It will also have been part of the advance planning to match some skills with tasks. If a task is substantial or quite technical then the organiser will want to be confident that the individual is competent to lead that part of the project. They will most likely have worked with that person before. It’s common sense really.

Most organisers will be willing to find you a job you’d like to do but this won’t always be possible. A good way to learn new skills is to work as a team with a skilled person. Otherwise we expect you to take on work you think is within your capabilities. We try to accommodate all abilities on work parties and will do our best to make the experience safe and enjoyable.

There will also be a part of the briefing devoted to safety and welfare. This will include things such as the casualty evacuation plan which will be discussed. If there is a satellite phone then its location and the user instructions will be identified. Similarly the first aid kit and any qualified members will be identified. Areas or tasks in or around the bothy requiring specific safety requirements or equipment will be made clear and Personal Protective Equipment will be issued as necessary.

A deputy organiser may also be appointed, either beforehand or on site if required, and will be in charge in the absence of the organiser. Responsibility for particular tasks may be delegated to others – such as site safety, transport, roof construction, etc. Who these people are and their responsibilities will be made clear at the briefing.

The Project Organiser will make some reasonable assumptions

Working in a remote location can bring with it some unique problems. If you’ve forgotten something important it can seriously hamper your ability to succeed at a work party. Being in ‘hard to reach’ areas we often have to be more creative in our methods of maintenance and repair.

Volunteers come with a range of skills. Some are qualified in trades. Others have years of ‘hands on’ experience and some are relatively inexperienced. All are very welcome but the organiser has to trust your personal judgement of your skills and competency.

We want to complete the tasks successfully, enjoy ourselves and be safe whilst doing so. Therefore communication at a work party is really important in all of these aspects.

‘The person with the greatest responsibility for keeping you safe is you’. If you look after yourself properly and try to remain aware of the area and people around you it will also help you to keep others safe too.

Once a task has been agreed with an individual the organiser will reasonably assume that you are confident and competent to complete that task.

We would ask you to remember the following key points:

  • You will not be asked to undertake a task that you do not feel confident or competent to complete.
  • The organiser will also reasonably assume you are confident and competent in using the tools required to complete the task
  • If you start a task and become unhappy with your ability to complete it competently or safely then stop and speak to the organiser
  • It is your responsibility to comply with any safety advice given and to use any PPE provided.
  • If you are unhappy about heavy lifting or working at heights, or anything else, then tell the organiser.
  • It is also your responsibility to tell the organiser if you suffer any kind of physical or medical problem and especially if you are on medication.
  • If specialist safety equipment is required then the organiser will have ensured it is available for use as necessary. You will tend to find that if such equipment is required then the organiser will already have identified the trained or skilled people to use it.

Welfare at Work Parties

You should be prepared to be self-sufficient. This includes your food, cooking arrangements, clothing, sanitation and hygiene, sleeping arrangements and quite often shelter. During some work parties the bothy or parts of it may be habitable, but on major work parties the bothy will be entirely uninhabitable for most of the time. Even when the bothy can be used there is a risk of your equipment getting dirty and damaged. It is essential to check with the organiser beforehand what the situation is likely to be and if in doubt, take a tent.

Food for tea breaks and main meals are sometimes supplied by the Association on major projects but rarely on smaller work parties. This is another thing to check out carefully with the organiser beforehand, and it would be wise to have something of your own to hand in case plans go awry. If the vehicle bringing the work party rations is stuck on the hard shoulder awaiting rescue you don’t want to find yourself going hungry. There may be a fireplace or stove in the bothy but it is often better to be self- sufficient and bring your own stove.

Basic sanitation is primarily up to you, just as during any stay at a bothy. Your fellow members will expect you to observe the Bothy Code and dispose of toilet waste carefully and responsibly. Where the organiser has foreseen a need, a communal toilet facility may be provided. This will be either a dry pit or a chemical (elsan) toilet.

Clothes may get dirty with paints, cement etc. which often cannot be removed later so bring things you don’t mind this happening to. Beware of bringing loose or baggy clothing, like rain capes, as they will just blow about and get in the way, or may become entangled with tools. Remember your feet, and bring an old pair of walking boots or preferably a pair of proper work boots. Trainers, sandals and Wellington boots offer little or no protection, either from above or below. You’ll need both your feet for walking back to the car after the work party.

July to September inclusive is often the season for midges. There are lots of preparations on the market to choose from. A head-net is well worth considering and has the advantage of being chemical free, and not running out when you need it most.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is provided by the MBA, depending on what is necessary for the tasks in hand. This may include

  • Gloves to protect from abrasion and from chemicals, such as cement or paint.
  • Goggles and glasses for eye protection.
  • Helmets to protect the head from falling heavy or sharp objects.
  • Face-masks to prevent inhalation of nuisance dusts.
  • If you are thinking about bringing hand tools please consult the organiser beforehand. Things like measuring tapes and pencils are always useful. We appreciate that you may have your favourite tool for a specific task, but we don’t want you to have carried them for no purpose.
  • The organiser will arrange the provision of all power tools (which are often battery powered).

Additional notes

Children below the age of 16 are not, in law, wholly responsible for themselves. They must be accompanied by a ‘responsible adult’. There may also be persons with a reduced ability to look after themselves. Arrangements for the supervision of such volunteers must be agreed with the organiser before the work party.

We recognise and acknowledge that most of our volunteers are resourceful and resilient individuals who often visit bothies. Many will have good map reading and navigational skills from years spent in the mountains which gives them the confidence to travel independently. Whilst many bothies are relatively easy to reach on well-marked paths and tracks some are in particularly remote locations that do require good navigational skills in poor weather.

If you are not suitably competent and confident to travel independently to a bothy then please contact the organiser to ensure that you can make the walk in from an agreed point with other volunteers. Apart from being safer in a mountain environment it often makes the walk feel much shorter in bad weather!

Finally one of the best ways to make a work party a real success is to keep talking to each other. If in doubt about anything then just ask someone. Please also remember to be tolerant and flexible with others as well. There is no one single way which is always right but there will always be a best way for that particular occasion.

© Copyright Mountain Bothies Association, Edenbank House, 22 Crossgate, Cupar, Fife, KY15 5HW
Mountain Bothies Association is a charity registered in Scotland, no. SC008685 and a company limited by guarantee and registered in Scotland, no. SC191425