Our latest guest blog welcomes Sarah Royal from the National Federation of Parks and Green Spaces, who shares her tips on establishing a Friends of group.
Our parks and green spaces are an amazing public resource. Across the country, Friends and community volunteer groups work tirelessly to improve, care for and protect their local spaces.
Their efforts are increasingly important, as local authority parks teams have absorbed significant cuts and restructuring due to the policies of austerity. Even without these financial pressures, Friends and community volunteer groups add value through their work, improving biodiversity, engaging local communities and providing fun, sociable days for people to get together and work collaboratively.
If you care about your local park or green space, find out about your local group who works there and get involved. Groups are fun and flexible, there's often no pressure on time commitments, meaning you can often drop-in during volunteering times. In many cases, volunteer roles extend past digging and planting and into events, social media and promotion work.
What if you park doesn't have a group? Well, why not start one! Our top-ten tips for getting a group going are:
Tip #1: Think about why you want to do something on the park or green space - are you improving it, want a new play park or fighting to protect it? Groups often form with a project they can mobilise to achieve, expanding their ideas as their successes grow.
Tip #2: To get your group off to a good start you need an easy to organise, cheap, attention grabbing activity. How about a fancy-dress litter pick, a petition or planting a wildflower meadow?
Tip #3: Promote your event - posters in the park, speak to different groups (dog walkers, footballers, parents) or social media. Make sure social media posts are shared to local newspaper pages or events sites.
Tip #4: Don't worry about any formalities to begin with - that can all come in time as the group grows. In many cases, people just agree to meet regularly for work (litter picks, planting etc). If you reach the point where you would like to get some funding, you'll likely need a constitution, which can be very simple and there are groups like NFPGS who can help you out.
Tip #5: Don't forget to get the contact details of people who come along so you can keep in touch, preferable email addresses. This will form the basis of your contacts and as long as you are telling people that you'll be emailing them, not selling their details and offering the chance for them to unsubscribe, then you are ok to hold onto their emails.
Tip #6: Speak to the local landowner, often the local authority, they are likely to be happy for support and may be able to help with resources.
Tip #7: Visit www.parkscommunity.org.uk - the new website for Friends and community green space volunteer groups, packed with information, ideas and inspiration to get things going!
Tip #8: Speak to other local Friends groups and share ideas, challenges and resources. Don't reinvent the wheel - other local groups will have lots of experience and can often help in unexpected ways.
Tip #9: Be risk aware - if you're doing work in a public place, take care. If parks teams are working with you, for example rangers on site, you are likely to be covered by their insurance. Otherwise, groups might need to consider insurance longer-term to protect themselves. This doesn't need to be unmanageable or scary to begin with, but something to consider when you're more established.
Tip #10: Have fun - people are more likely to come back for more volunteering if they are having fun. Flasks of tea and packets of biscuits normally work a treat!
The National Federation of Parks and Green Spaces (NFPGS) is the umbrella organisation that aims to amplify the voices of Friends Groups across the UK. The Federation works with the dynamic and inspirational grassroots movement of over 6,000 local Friends of Parks groups, supporting volunteers who act on behalf of the communities who use and care about our vital public green spaces of all kinds. We exist to represent their activities, issues and concerns, and strengthen their passionate and knowledgeable voices.
At the NFPGS, we work collectively, as green space volunteers ourselves, to raise the profile of these groups, shout about why their parks are important and lobby to ensure our parks and green spaces are properly protected. We are at the beginning of an exciting year and we want to make sure green space groups are connected and networked so we can share our efforts with you all. Sign up to our newsletter here.
Favourite childhood park: Sutton Park National Nature Reserve, north Birmingham. Many hours spent there as a child
Favourite local park: It has to be Romsley Park and the surrounding area of the Clent Hills, Bromsgrove, Worcestershire, where I live
Favourite overseas park: I do not have a favourite park, as I always go walking and exploring the wilder areas but did enjoy walking through and seeing the wild parrots and beautiful flowers in the main park in Malaga, Spain
Favourite park memory: Sledging in Sutton Park as a child close to home and walking in the deep snow
Favourite thing to do at the park: Now my favourite thing to do is to walk my beautiful Lhasa Apso puppy and enjoy the scenery and wildlife
Sarah Royal is Chief Executive of the National Federation of Parks and Green Spaces. She can be contacted by email:
Sarah Royal is an environmental consultant and champions Birmingham's Parks and green spaces in her role as the first paid member of staff at The Birmingham Open Spaces Forum. Sarah is also Chief Executive of the National Federation for Parks and Greenspaces the umbrella organisation supporting a grassroots movement of over 6,000 local Friends of Parks groups and their regional forums across the UK.