February 20th 2017

Adult volunteer: “I’ve gone from being a shy cadet to someone who inspires others”

Laura Gardener Derbyshire ACF

Staff Sergeant Laura Gardener

An adult volunteer from Matlock has described how she enjoys inspiring young people in her community to reach their personal goals and learn new skills.

Mother of one, Staff Sergeant Instructor Laura Gardener, aged 28, volunteers with Derbyshire Army Cadet Force (ACF) and credits her career and increase in self-confidence to being a part of the youth organisation.

Beginning her ACF journey as a shy 13-year-old cadet, Laura later went on to re-join the Cadet Force as an adult volunteer to pass on her skills and expertise to those younger than herself.

Laura, who in her day-to-day life works full-time for the Youth Hostel Association, explained: “I was incredibly shy as a child, I used to hide behind the sofa when anyone new came over to our house. One of my friends from school was in the cadets and eventually persuaded me to go along to a cadet training evening to see if I wanted to join. This was really scary for me but I stuck with it, meaning I have now been a part of the ACF for more than half of my life.”

As someone who has overcome the fear of meeting new people, making new friends and standing up in front of groups of people as part of a presentation, Laura finds that she can relate to some of her cadets on a personal level.

She continued: “To see a young person coming into the cadets in a similar position to what I was originally, and then watching them grow is fantastic. Many of my cadets have thanked me and my fellow volunteers for helping them carve out a set direction in life, helping them communicate with others and putting them on the right track for a career in their chosen field.”

During Laura’s time in the Cadet Force she has achieved both basic and intermediate First Aid qualifications that she has since been able to use in her workplace, and has become a qualified short range course and dismounted close combat training instructor, meaning she can lead cadets on indoor laser shooting ranges.

Laura said: “Being a part of the ACF means so much to me. I’ve got a lot on my plate, I’m a busy working mum but my detachment always understands that as volunteers we can only give as much of our time as we can. In my opinion there are not many things that could restrict you joining the Cadet Force, as long as you are passionate about working with young people and are enthusiastic about learning new skills the ACF may be the right choice for you.”

Explaining more about her home-life Laura described how the ACF has also had a positive effect on members of her family. Her brother also originally joined the Cadet Force as a withdrawn person but has since gone on to have a career in the Army, and her husband is also a fellow adult volunteer of the Cadet Force so understands the professional and personal benefits volunteering can bring.

Laura concluded: “The ACF has had a profound impact on my life. I had a four month gap between leaving the organisation as a cadet and re-joining as an adult volunteer. I can honestly say that the time I was away felt empty in some way, and I was itching to get involved again.

“I’ve gone from being a shy cadet to someone who inspires others. When the cadets arrive at our detachment, they all work as a team and it doesn’t matter what background they are from or how they are doing at school.

“They all experience the same activities, wear the same uniform and can learn at their own pace. I am passionate about volunteering and would encourage anyone who wants to make a difference in their community to get involved.”

To become an adult volunteer in the ACF you do not need any military or teaching experience as everything can be learnt after you apply.

Derbyshire ACF has detachments across the county including Derby, Chesterfield, Long Eaton, Buxton, Glossop, Ilkeston, New Mills, Matlock and Chapel-En-Le Frith.

To find out more about volunteering in your area with the ACF contact 01332 772025 ext. 21 or email

Further details about joining the ACF can also be found by

"I am passionate about volunteering and would encourage anyone who wants to make a difference in their community to get involved.”