"I love running in the fresh air and being able to see nature around me"

Executive Administrator

I have set my workstation up in our conservatory so that I overlook our garden and have plenty of light. I have really benefited from being able to watch the birds and squirrels in the garden whilst I work.

Hi, I’m Sara and I am the Executive Administrator based at Southdown’s Headquarters in Lewes.

Being the administrator for the Executive team is an interesting and varied role and includes organising the fortnightly Executive Meetings and their papers. For the past year I have also been organising and minuting the weekly Coronavirus Response Team Meetings which has given me an insight into just how hard our Executive team are working to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all our staff and clients.

I really struggled with working from home during the lockdowns, particularly at the beginning, as I’m not good at being at home by myself and sometimes find motivation difficult even though I love my job. I have really struggled with anxiety issues in the past and being on my own so much has really exacerbated this.

I really miss the little connections you make in the office - the quick chats with colleagues which help give you a flavour of what else is going on. Staying connected with my colleagues has been really important – I am part of a WhatsApp group with the Communications team and my manager Roz, as we all used to sit together before the pandemic. We like to share both jokes and our frustrations! And I have regular Zoom meetings with Roz and other colleagues. 

I have set my workstation up in our conservatory so that I overlook our garden and have plenty of light. I have really benefited from being able to watch the birds and squirrels in the garden whilst I work. 

I have several feeding stations and there are always birds in the garden - they seem to come in groups! I keep a notebook to hand, as I do the BTO (British Trust for Ornithology) weekly garden watch – like the RSPB Garden Bird count – so this ensures that I have regular screen breaks. Bizarrely, this has really helped with my feelings of loneliness when working at home.

Last year, around this time, the nestlings started to fledge and I had whole families of birds coming to the feeders. I really connected with the squabbling starlings and the cocky magpies and the cute little bundles of long-tailed tits and blue tits. Watching them all becomes a real joy.

Spending time outside observing nature is really important for me. As I focus on what is around me, I start to relax and absorb all the little things which makes me feel happy. Being outside helps give me the breathing space to gain perspective on my anxieties and lifts my mood.

I started running in my late forties, mainly to combat depression and anxiety. I started in the gym on the treadmill but soon discovered that I could run twice as far with less effort in the great outdoors.

Although I can still struggle to motivate myself to actually get out there, I do so enjoy it. I’m so lucky to have some little-used lanes with thick hedgerows to run along with lots of wild flowers in the hedgerows and birds in the hedges. I never use headphones or listen to music as I like to listen to the sounds around me, particularly the birds. 

I usually run in the early morning and the birds seem to lead me on, leap-frogging each other in front of me along the hedgerows, twittering and chirruping away – it is really entertaining and feels like they are my cheerleaders, encouraging me on!

I had gone into a total slump over the winter months as I hadn’t been able to exercise due to a foot injury called plantar fasciitis. I was really feeling really low but now I have started running again it has made such a huge difference to my mood.

If I have to attend Bell Lane for essential work, I will try to run in via the most scenic route. I manage to fit in a couple of fields on the way out of Ringmer, the cycle path, the nature reserve, round the back streets of Lewes and the Grange Gardens. I arrive at work feeling great, both from the endorphins from the exercise and from just enjoying the fresh air and nature around me.

I love running in the fresh air and being able to see nature around me. Round the lanes and across the fields, everything around me is constantly slowly changing with the seasons and there is always something different to notice. I love the unexpected sightings of wildlife – a stoat or a shrew darting across the lane. In comparison, the gym is hot and sweaty, monotonous and boring.

I get a huge buzz from the sense of achievement I get from running. Each time I run I can’t believe that I can still actually do it! I kept running all through breast cancer radiotherapy treatment because six weeks after it ended I was booked on the Madrid half marathon with my niece (the flights and hotel were already booked and paid for!). I haven’t run with anyone else for a couple of years now as I get anxious that I am too slow, but it actually means that I can enjoy my surroundings and not feel under any pressure regarding my pace.

As I only run twice a week to try to stay injury free, on other days I go for a daily early morning walk for an hour before starting work at 8:30am. I can’t tell you how good this makes me feel! I always arrive home with a smile on my face!

I take my binoculars with me and whilst I march briskly, I also take the time to stop and look at interesting things. I’ve found that I have really started to become more knowledgeable about nature and our local birds in particular. I can now identify some by their flight pattern, others by their song or calls, and know where to look out for particular species. I’m keeping an eye out for the return of a pair of turtle doves who frequented a certain spot last year – they are a really rare species these days!

I’ve started sending a couple of paragraphs of nature notes to my husband whilst he’s at work and unbeknownst to me he has been circulating them to his colleagues!


Extracts from Sara’s Nature Notes:

“Another beautiful morning for a walk with a plethora of birds. I must be getting better at recognising the song, or at just spotting them – at least seven separate sightings of wrens, lots of dunnocks too, and six separate sightings of groups of goldfinches.  A couple of swallows were hunched up with the cold on the wires by Mays Farm, but had perked up by the time I went past on my way back – busy preening themselves.  A Jay flew a few feet over my head to a tree in front of me, posed beautifully, and then very obligingly flew back again, just to show off its beautifully coloured plumage. There was a lovely mistle thrush singing heartily at the top of a tree in the bluebell wood, and a song thrush posed for so long for me on the hedgerow, I even got my phone out to take a picture – so she flew off.  Lots of tits, and a chiffchaff too, woodpigeons, magpies, jackdaws, crows and collared doves galore, and a few house sparrows. Lots of bluebells, celandines, wood anemones, and stitchwort in the hedgerows. Lovely walk.”

“Another beautiful morning for an early walk, slightly warmer this morning. My two swallows were back on their usual wire, patiently waiting for the flies to put in an appearance on the manure heap at Mays Farm – they were looking a lot happier this morning, quite perky in fact. I also encountered another couple of swallows on a wire, and one flew past, so numbers are increasing now.  I also saw a gorgeous greenfinch, looking very handsome on a wire – greenfinches are a rare sighting these days. Nest building was very much in evidence this morning; a little blue tit gathering up bits of fluff, another with a sizeable white feather in its beak, and a great tit with a beak full of fluffy grey feathers.  I also encountered a pair of chiffchaffs doing what comes naturally..! One of the delights at the moment is the number of baby bunnies in the hedgerows, who either freeze as I approach, pretending to be invisible, or pelt for the nearest burrow, of which there are plenty. I also get the pleasure of stroking dogs almost every walk – today I even got to throw sticks for a very cute cockapoo!”