Volunteer development in Dawberry Fields Park

Helen Harvey – FPA Volunteering Development Coordinator working for Birmingham Open Spaces Forum, gives us an insight into her work at one of the FPA pilot sites – Dawberry Fields Park.

13 weeks into a 26-week contract as a Volunteering Development Coordinator and things are finally, hopefully, starting to warm up a bit – in terms of who and what we can do to get out meeting folks. Sadly, the weather has yet to reciprocate in such a positive manner. I think it’s fair to say that coming into this role I had little idea of how I might be received in a different park by the locals and, I have been reasonably positively surprised. If you turn up regularly, so that people get used to seeing you and say ‘hi’ when passing. Important to wear a smile too. It’s a start. If you wear something that makes you look safe to talk to – i.e. a labelled garment, badge, hi viz, etc., you are no longer considered the ‘random’ in the park! People start to engage. Aside – it’s a bit like when you walk the dog in the park alone: if you see a stranger, to you unknown, walking towards you, certainly as a woman, you start to consider your options – seriously. Fight, flight, bluff it out. But if a man has a dog with him, particularly one that’s cute with a waggly tail, there is nothing to worry about – he can’t possibly be an axe murderer with a black Labrador! Ha ha! Same with the hi viz.
But I digress!

So, over the last few weeks I have looked at different ways of ‘putting myself out there’ to become a known person within Dawberry Fields. Initially, whilst still in lockdown, a site visit was really frowned upon – whilst the work from home if you can suggestion was still the mantra of the government. So ways to comply meant my daily exercise could take me through the park 1 or 2 times a week. Within a couple of weeks I had a couple of posters on the notice boards about the corvids, spring tree buds and asking questions about ‘what do people want for their park?’ just putting it out there! BOOM! I got no response from the questions at all. But – I did get positive comments from the nature posters and was able
to have a few conversations. I got excited about a monthly photography competition from the positivity….. but with no budget yet determined, so no carrot to dangle as a reward; this bombed too – one response. OK. I put that idea to bed for a while.

By the end of Feb, so three weeks in, I’ve a t-shirt and Hi-Viz and people are chatting to me about the park and their daily commutes, exercise, reasons for being in the park. It’s all interesting and helps ne to formulate a cunning plan to draw out more information about the community and what people want. I start ‘building the brand’. I’ve got logos, hi-viz and my posters begin to take shape into a recognisable format – a trusted post. Similarly, I become a presence on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Me! At 55! Who knew I could be so social media savvy!? But…now… how to move to the next step? How do you have a chat and a coffee during covid? And how do you get hold of peoples details and ask the right questions so you can engage further? That took a bit more working through….God bless the notice boards, where I shouted my ideas out to all who would stop by and read – and read they did!

In her next Blog Helen tells us how things have developed even further. Coming soon.

You can contact Helen to find out more about volunteering opportunities at: helen@bosf.org.uk

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