Meet the Volunteer: Tess

From 1st to 7th June 2023 it is Volunteer Appreciation Week!

7th June 2023


Tess was born in the beautiful county of Devon before moving north to Blackpool with her family. She came to Carlisle in 1987 to take up a Deputy Headship at James Rennie School. Tess married Mike in 1989 and they are both proud of their grown-up son, Adam, who lives and works in London helping people with major brain trauma. He’s also a graphic artist. Tess retired in 2019 and joined Oak Tree as a volunteer.  


Reporting to Oak Tree's Education Officer, Nicky Williams, Tess’s role is mostly education-based in the community. Her first task was developing schemes of work lessons for primary school children. This has now been extended from two to 16 year olds. The lessons include fun matching activities, i.e. looking at the needs of cats’ and dogs’ and then matching them to the specific animal. Tess devotes four or five hours a week to volunteering and happily reports that Oak Trees educational app had over 6,000 downloads last year.  

Tess describes her volunteering day as “every day is different”; usually on a Friday, she attends school assemblies with Nicky. On other days, she helps if cats or kittens need socialising. Tess shares an office with staff and their dogs, so she still has that contact with dogs too. Oak Tree's ‘A Helping Paw’ scheme is a vital pet fostering service for people escaping domestic abuse or homeless. Tess has also fostered nine cats in four years, some have gone back to their owners and some have been rehomed, Tess said “I’m just helping them over a difficult period”. She sends photographs and videos to the cat’s owners and updates them on their cat’s progress. Tess adds, “The owners are very grateful. Oak Tree deserves credit for this work; they do an incredible job”.

Tess also helps out with fundraising throughout the year at various fairs. This usually takes the form of helping to plan activities for the children such as the half-term children's trails based around caring for animals. Tess is usually on hand from 10.00am on Fair days until 3.00pm or for as long as it takes.


Tess' volunteering came about after losing her beloved nineteen-and-a-half-year-old cat, Ginny and meant Tess could stroke cats and take dogs for a walk. However, with her background in education, she was approached by Education Officer, Nicky, who asked her if she would like to join the new education section and of course, Tess was delighted to do so.  

Tess has had many rewarding moments during her volunteering, she finds fostering a great source of satisfaction. Especially when the cats and kittens are re-homed. She remembers one evening when the team were alerted to a lost cat. People had made the cat a shelter in their garden and contacted Oak Tree. Staff scanned the cat and were able to contact the owners, who hadn’t seen their cat for two years. They came straight away and were overjoyed to be reunited, Tess said, “We were all so thrilled”.

Tess finds every day rewarding, sometimes she feels as though she hasn’t done anything, “But”, she says, “You feel so valued for the work you do”. 

Tess tells the story of looking after a tiny kitten found at the side of the road.  He could not lift his head and looked as though he wouldn’t survive. Tess lifted his head and fed him through a syringe, she was determined to give him a chance. The kitten wasn’t keen to feed, he didn’t make any effort. During the night Tess thought, “If this boy doesn’t eat we’re going to lose him”. Tess got the little chap out of his basket, and dabbed his lips with kitten food which he started to lick from her finger. She repeated this first thing in the morning and as she reached for more food, the kitten followed her finger to the bowl and began to lap. From then on he went from strength to strength. 

Tess asked what makes her want to return, saying, “Knowing there’s something to do and I can be useful. I try and learn something new every day and every time I go into Oak Tree; I do learn something new!”

Tess added that the reason she chose Oak Tree was because, “There’s always something different, but mostly it’s because of the animals. After Ginny died, I donated her belongings to Oak Tree and asked if they needed any volunteers. They said they did and here I am!” Tess added, “If you’re even thinking about it, just do it. It’s a wonderful place to be. I feel very privileged to be here”.

Meet the Volunteer: Tess

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