Part 2 – Initial Engagement

We are catching up with Helen’s work in Dawberry Fields Park developing volunteering.

Spring into Summer

After some time off over Easter, moving my mother-in-law into a home – its back to Dawberry, with plans to try and encourage some consultation. I booked two coffee chats and planned to have 2 litter picking sessions soon after.

The coffee chats needed to be covid safe, so I encouraged people to come with their own coffee and I provided cakes / pre-wrapped. We stood socially distanced, and used sanitizer before taking a cake.

Not knowing if anyone would turn up, I was pleasantly surprised when 10 people came to the first coffee chat on a Tuesday morning and left me with their contact details.

We chatted about the park, the area and people’s aspirations for the park after lockdown.  Interestingly, the second coffee chat, on a Saturday morning, was rather less successful. I tended to stop people who were passing, to chat, rather than have them turn up to chat to me.  I was unsure as to whether this was due to it being a weekend, or whether I had already engaged with anyone interested on the first chat.

Of course, once you do attract people to give an opinion, it can be difficult to meet their expectations. Many of those who attended had lovely ideas for benches, gym equipment, trees, new football ground and posts.  All valid asks. I had to find a way to acknowledge these. Not dismiss them, but lower their expectations as to what might be achieved (within my contract term of 6 months) without defined funding.

These two sessions also allowed me to understand those who itched to be out doing ‘something useful.’ We spoke of litter picking, dog muck, fly tipping, wild meadows, clearing streams and brambles – and here I could be a lot more enthusiastic and encouraging.

With the email contact details from the coffee chats, I sent out links to my questionnaire about Dawberry Fields and volunteering.  Interestingly most people lived nearby, were women and white – as previous FPA data has reported.  Yet I know this isn’t completely representative of the people I met.

These early questionnaire responses revealed that people wanted to get involved in looking after the park, not just doing things in the park.  So, it made sense to start with an easy win – my litter picking idea: easy to facilitate, satisfying to see what is collected and team building.  Also helpful to the parks and residents. 

We made the first litter pick a litter survey, to encourage the children involved to consider what was the worst ‘offender’ rubbish wise and have a discussion about it.  In case you are interested: plastic bottles, cans, cigarette butts and sweet wrappers were the worst offenders!

Two of the people who attended stood out as keen, down to earth and engaged enough to pop off and buy their own litter picking equipment. A fantastic encouragement to me.  Add onto this that they were (and are), lovely ladies who were happy to meet for a chat at either end of the park bench and talk about aspirations for the park, I felt rewarded for my efforts.

The notice boards were attracting attention: spring buds, signs of spring, take litter home, and so further litter picks were advertised. 

We found some strange litter that the police collected promptly, reminding us that our neighbourhood isn’t always as it seems, after dark. Good to know the police are keen to work with us. It was a talking point for a few days, then it calmed down again.

Engaging with the local police at Brandwood was rewarding. They seemed pleased I am in the park, engaging the community to tidy up. It’s all good.

Following a meeting with my friendly park ranger, we came up with some dates for the diary in May, June and July.  I was also encouraged by requests for regular litter picking activities and looked to set the ball rolling.

Two of the ‘group’ wanted to run particular events: GB Spring Clean and Big Toddle for Barnardo’s.  I offered to facilitate/assist.  Hoping this is encouraging them to see how easy it is to get things moving.  I felt motivated too. 

Then a third person became engaged, and she had forest school experience!

Is it time to think about calling ourselves a friend’s group yet? 

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

NEXT TIME:

Blog 3 – Planning an event to aid consultation – coming soon.

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