From Gower to Guernsey: An Insight into Island Life – Guest Blog
2nd June 2021
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The Guernsey Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (known as the GSPCA) is a local charity that dates all the way back to 1873. The charity is dedicated to rescuing animals, providing them with shelter and encouraging the kind treatment of both domestic and wild animals. It is well-supported by the community with hundreds of success stories from pet adoption and dog training to the rescuing of seal pups, sea birds and other wildlife.
It’s currently Garden Wildlife Week and, with Guernsey being an outdoor haven for animals of all shapes and sizes, we decided to speak with GSPCA Manager Steve Byrne who relocated to Guernsey in 2011.
Steve fell in love with the island and has been enjoying life here ever since. With almost half of the UK population saying that they spend more time outside than before COVID-19, it’s no surprise that we are becoming more aware of our environment and the importance of preserving our green spaces.
Read on to find out how the island offers a more relaxed and fulfilling way of living with countless opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors and a welcoming community.
“If anyone ever has the chance to spend any time at all in Guernsey, then your life will be changed forever as you will be hard pressed to find a better place to live.”
How long have you lived in Guernsey and what brought you here?
Having been brought up on the Gower coast, the sea and nature have played a huge part in my life. Up until 2011 I had been working for the RSPCA and ran a number of areas, the last of which was at RSPCA Sheffield. One evening I received a phone call and at first thought someone was pulling my leg as it was from the Guernsey SPCA committee inviting me to this amazing island as they were looking for someone to head up the organisation. Once I had pinched myself a few times I made the trip over to Guernsey and instantly fell in love with the charity and island. I had very much missed the coast and Welsh countryside and arriving in Guernsey felt like coming home. The warm friendly welcome instantly draws you in to a place that my wife, our three children, dog and tortoise all call home.
The last 10 years have truly been amazing. We got married on the island and our youngest was born here. With the children going through the school system, we have been impressed with the quality of the teaching staff and the fantastic opportunities they have are far broader than you can imagine.
The role of heading up the GSPCA brought me to Guernsey and despite the challenges, what we are able to achieve is truly inspirational and we have won many awards even on the international stage. As an organisation that is all about caring for animals, our community means that we can help thousands every year and support the island in many ways.
Can you tell us a bit more about the job that you do?
As the GSPCA Manager I run the oldest animal welfare organisation in Guernsey. The charity was set up in 1873 to help prevent cruelty and promote kindness to animals and we remain true to our founding aims nearly 150 years later. Running an animal charity is a way of life. I also live on site helping to provide 24/7 around the clock service of which I am no stranger to as I’ve been in animal welfare for nearly 25 years. The GSPCA is an organisation that has to punch well above its weight as there are so many demands from the animals and community we serve. We raise over £700,000 a year to care for 300+ animals on site at any one time and see over 2000 wild animals and 1000 domestic animals every year. This is in addition to education work, managing 16 buildings, investigating animal welfare concerns (serious cases thankfully very rare), not to mention the boarding and other services we provide.
No two days are ever the same and the 35 staff and over 80 volunteers help to ensure that we accomplish incredible feats from getting sick seal pups back to the wild to caring for all sorts of unusual species of animals. Without the support of the community we couldn’t achieve these great things and it is rare to go to an event and not see the GSPCA there. With so many things going on you will often see myself and team members promoting our work, trying to find animals new homes and raising much-needed funds. In the 10 years I have been at the GSPCA we have won many awards in conservation, customer care, Charity of the Year and a group of us were flown over to the UK for an International Special Recognition Award to recognise the incredible work of the team.
How would you describe the island’s community?
I have gotten myself deeply involved with the island’s community which for me is one of the best in the world. Running the GSPCA we are involved with many of the island’s events, work closely with other charities and organisations having recently been co-opted onto the council of the Association of Guernsey Charities. We’re part of the local rugby club and take children to many clubs and groups. You cannot help but be impressed by the philanthropic nature of Guernsey.
These wonderful community groups result in new friendships, a caring community safe for our children and positive influences for the next generation. We see this daily at the GSPCA and in the local media from children doing brilliant sponsored events for charities and a huge range of other organisations.
Shortly after coming to the island and after approaching the States of Guernsey we were allowed to hold an Animal Welfare Seafront Sunday: an event to celebrate animals in Guernsey in our capital of St Peter Port and this for me reflects our community. It’s a day where over 10,000 islanders and visitors come together to support one another and celebrate the caring nature shared, not just by the GSPCA, but by over 100 other charities, organisations and stall holders – all while having a lot of fun. This year we hope to hold our 10th event. Where else in the world sees an animal charity take over the main town or city and share it with so many other great causes?
What are your favourite things to do when you’re not working?
Well, my job does take up a large part of my time but, living on this stunning island, there isn’t a day I don’t go for a cycle, walk, run or enjoy the coastline. There are amazing paths and lanes for dog walking with plenty of places to stop for refreshments and you are always surrounded by an abundance of wildlife. The eateries are excellent from the beachside kiosks to the hotels and restaurants. Having not been able to travel off island recently we have had some lovely staycation nights with the children, and everyone gives us a warm welcome and a great experience. I do involve myself in many of the island’s events and organisations from sporting events to fundraisers and there is always something going on to get involved with.
Island hopping is a must do as we are so blessed to have gems like Alderney, Herm and Sark all a short trip away. If you like watching sport then the Guernsey Rugby Club is just one of the many venues and clubs that are great to attend, with a real family friendly environment.