As the UK tries to contain the coronavirus pandemic and our lives have been turned upside down, we are all trying to find our own “new normal”. For many, this means finding the best way to stay healthy and restrict the spread of COVID-19.
We currently have unprecedented government #lockdown rules that limit the amount of social contact we can have and how many times we may leave the house. These lockdown rules have meant Friends groups across the country are having to hastily re-think how they can operate. At a very basic level many have had to address the problem of how to keep in touch remotely as regular face to face meetings became impossible. We produced a quick guide to help give some options, such as Zoom video conferencing:
The number one aim for PCUK during this crisis is to stay positive and to show we are all part of a community of volunteers who matter more than ever right now. Local green spaces and parks are vital for a communities’ health and wellbeing, especially as so many UK households have no garden. The Government message has backed up what we have all known for a long time and that is “People Need Parks!”
Here we share examples from other Friends groups who are finding ways to still remain very effective ambassadors for their sites. Seeing what others are doing can provide inspiration as it is always reassuring to see others coping effectively. Challenging times are difficult, but they often lead to innovation and creativity because we have no choice but to think in ways we never have before.
Some groups may not be able to make the transition easily because their numbers are depleted. We know volunteers often don’t just help one group, many may now be giving their time to food banks or be community providers and are unable to offer much time to their parks group. Others may have new caring responsibilities or be focussing on home-schooling efforts or learning how to work from home. But hopefully, even in these scenarios, there are some quick-wins which don’t take too much time and can help your group and your park/green space.
CONCENTRATING ON MESSAGES AND POSTERS
Friends of Ruskin Park (SE5, London), Friends of Troopers Hill, Friends of Wandsworth Common all helped communicate the lockdown #socialdistancing message and shared their posters. Although many beauty spots were quieter, local urban parks were more popular than ever, so reminders of the rules had to be done thoughtfully to keep the community together and not provoke conflict. We all want our parks to stay open.
Ruskin Park showed a small piece of chalk can be very effective in dry weather!
PCUK conducted a poll to find out how much Council support was being devoted to parks:
- 58.8% had posters put up by local Councils
- 5.9% had posters put up by Friends Groups
- 32% had no posters at all
- 2.9% had no poster currently but been promised one from Council
Helping to share and retweet their Councils’ messages were Bristol Parks Forum.
The National Federation of Parks and Greenspaces released an excellent statement, which aimed to help Groups to re-focus their aims:
- spread good practice based on public health guidelines, regarding hygiene, distancing and advice/health helplines, etc.
- encourage people to support each other if vulnerable, or in self-isolation
- try to ensure everyone has access to basic food needs etc.
- try to ensure people can look after their kids OK if schools etc close
- try to ensure people who lose wages etc don’t face destitution or any threat of eviction from their homes etc.
- support the hard-working and over-stretched emergency workers (eg health staff)
- keep general morale up
CONTINUE PRACTICAL TASKS WHICH CAN BE DONE SOLO OR #SAFEDISTANCING
LITTER PICKING: In February they shared a whole thread of how this can be done thanks Wythenshawe Waste Warriors! Now they “are continuing to promote paired picks and continued positive online and media support for all volunteers. We want all to stay safe, healthy and happy if possible”
Solo litter picking, emptying bins, making posters: Friends of Walton Park, Liverpool
EMERGENCY TREE WATERING! Many Friends groups planted trees in early spring; two groups had orchard plantings which then desperately needed watering during the dry weather. Cue crowdsourcing for volunteers to water the new saplings! Friends of Cherry Tree Wood “Each tree needs at least 20 litres of water per tree each week from now until the end of September. Our original plan, to use the water supply from the toilet or a standpipe, cannot happen in the current circumstances. So we want to crowdsource to solve the problem.”
Read more in their newsletter https://mailchi.mp/18bbe83d0e25/cherry-tree-wood-news
Friends of Turn Moss: Appeals went out on Facebook and Twitter as very new saplings were needing water after a dry spell of weeks, thankfully many of the Friends groups volunteers stepped up. https://twitter.com/OurTurnMoss/status/1252671817279582209?s=20
More watering by Vicars Oak (@InvisiblePalace) group, leave watering cans out near tap and a note, worked well. https://twitter.com/invispalace/status/1251883861195325441?s=20
REPLACING FACE TO FACE MEETINGS/GOING ONLINE
Friends of Lordship Rec are now meeting monthly on Zoom.
Friends of Turn Moss had their first Zoom meeting in March and the next one will be mid-May. Some committee members dialled in using a landline, so tech doesn’t always need to be barrier. They are using their Facebook group more, to ensure issues and topics are discussed as a group.
Casey Morrison for the Future Parks Team made a 14 minute Webex to help groups move their consultation workshops online and it is well worth looking at to learn more about online engagement too: https://vimeo.com/403688153
HELPING THE LOCAL COMMUNITY EXPLORE THEIR PARK/GREEN SPACES
Loughborough Junction Neighbourhood Forum Encouraging use of lesser known parks to spread volume and prevent large parks getting over-run.
Wandsworth Park did a livestream walk through of their park, this was brilliantly innovative and informative too.
Friends of Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park did a live talk from a local community expert on wildlife of the area. Free tickets invitation to donate.
SHARING BEAUTIFUL CONTENT
Many people are isolating and cannot leave their house and plenty are without any Greenspace themselves. So many Friends Groups stepped up to virtually share their spaces to ease the sense of cabin fever.
Friends of Turn Moss on their Facebook group
Friends Of Hailey Park, Cardiff. Promoting the Great British Wildflower Hunt run by Plantlife Cymru “record the wild flowers that surround us every day, keep safe, follow Government advice on travel & social distancing. Take part in Hunt as part of your daily exercise”
GETTING NEW MEMBERS AND PROMOTING YOUR GROUP
Friends of the River Crane (FORCE) “Increased social media engagement – with several posts per day including information and advisories regarding open space usage, plenty of local wildlife photos and links to what to do during lockdown to engage with nature. The social media responses have been interesting – our posts are popular and our reach has grown”
Friends of Cotteridge Park, Birmingham: “Given how many people are enjoying being in our parks and open spaces this weird spring – could we ask that you think about joining the volunteer groups that keep them looking so good when we’re allowed back out.”
Sandall Park in Doncaster ran an online painting competition for scenes to be painted of their park. Brilliantly innovative!
Derby Parks did an online quiz based on all their local parks.
Friends of Forest Farm and Glamorganshire Canal had a photo competition as part of #WildCardiffHour.
ALTERNATIVE USES FOR PARK BUILDINGS CLOSED TO THE PUBLIC
Friends of Lordship Rec sought alternative positive usage for their main Hub building while it was closed to help with the pandemic (it has been offered to and accepted by the Council as a potential NHS testing centre)
Warley Woods in Smethwick, West Midlands asking for donations to help the Community Trust continue its work, they enlisted the help of famous patron Dame Julie Walters.
DO THOSE TASKS YOU KEEP PUTTING OFF (BUT CAN BE VERY USEFUL)
Birmingham Open Spaces Forum has used the #lockdown time to calculate how much volunteer time has been given in the previous 12 months. It is an eye-opener!
Friends of the River Crane (FORCE) Writing up projects and evaluations from previous events/years
KEEP MORALE HIGH BY SHARING YOUR SUCCESSES
Dukes Meadow Park “From green desert to wooded glade. In 2004 with a grant from Kraft Foods and volunteers from BBCNews, the Trust planted fruit trees on a bare area of grass. Lovely to see it today and hear the birds using it.”
CONTINUE TO COMMISSION LOCAL CONTRACTORS
With many local businesses losing work almost overnight, two Friends Groups have tried to provide support by commissioning projects despite #lockdown.
Friends of Turn Moss are working with a local illustrator to produce a nature panel for their noticeboard.
Friends of the River Crane (FORCE) “Put several larger projects on hold but putting work out to small local contractors where still possible”
PROMOTING HOW IMPORTANT PARKS AND FRIENDS GROUPS ARE!
All Friends Groups know how vital green spaces are for their neighbourhoods, many are already looking to the future to make sure they are supported and funded properly (this is a big aim for PCUK too!). So there are lots of Groups showing the great things their parks and green spaces deliver, because there are so many positives; from improving mental and physical health to providing breathing spaces with lower pollution levels and which encourage and a greater range of biodiversity.
Ourselves and many other parks and Friends Groups are helping promote any quotes from Government which highlight the importance parks are now playing during the Coronavirus pandemic.
These messages reinforce what PCUK and all green space community groups already know – WE NEED OUR PARKS AND GREENSPACES ! We must now be scaling up lobbying for them to be a core funded element of government and council budgets.
The Parks Alliance “Once #covid19uk over, restoring civic infrastructure like #parks same priority as roads/rail. Parks=smart investment delivering huge #Wellbeing returns.”
We are hearing from many voices who want to be part of the conversation about the future, thank you to all those who have been in touch via social media and email. We need to find solutions together to make sure our parks and green spaces are not going to be a casualty of the inevitable economic hard times to come and it is important to listen to every viewpoint.
Final word to Friends of Dukes Meadows:
ADDITIONAL FEEDBACK from London Friends of Green Spaces Network Zoom meeting on 4 May 2020.
GoParks is undertaking a media campaign to raise the profile of Londons parks and friends groups to encourage Londoners to visit parks. Borough forums and friends groups can submit information about their park or forum and the information will be displayed on the Big Green London Map on the GoParks website. They are also seeking to identify boroughs without an active forum, to try to encourage groups to set one up to enable friends groups to support each other and work effectively with their Council.
LFGN had these positive responses from Friends Groups and their responses to the pandemic and #lockdown:
✅ Increasing the frequency of email bulletins to members
✅ Increasing the use of social media to keep in touch
✅ Undertaking essential maintenance tasks (as some councils who subcontract maintenance of parks/greenspaces have furloughed staff)
✅ Basic garden tasks continuing if social distancing can be maintained
✅ Continuing to campaign: London Parks and Gardens Trust continue to campaign to save Victoria Tower Gardens
✅ Organising new events online )Running a virtual dog show – photos and videos of dogs will be used for judging and proceeds to the local hospital)
✅ Adopt a tree – volunteers tie a ribbon to a recently planted tree and to indicate they will water it throughout the spring and summer (socially distant park maintenance)
✅ Weekly surveys of the park to count visitors
✅ Online butterfly and birdsong identification classes
✅ Checking in on elderly Friends group members who are isolating
✅ Planning for future events (including a musical!)
✅ Reported increasing numbers of people joining friends groups and hopefully there are also many forming new friends groups
ADDITIONAL FEEDBACK from Bournemouth Parks Foundation and their Parks In Mind group on 21 May 2020. Usually PiM provides fun nature conservation and other outdoor activities in Bournemouth’s beautiful parks and open spaces. The aim is to deliver health and wellbeing benefits to the people taking part. COVID-19 and #lockdown meant an end to all volunteer activities in the park, so PiM switched to using online tools to ensure anyone who wanted to, could still keep in touch with the group. They wanted to make sure their aims were still being delivered – “improving health, meeting new people and learning new skills”.
The groups Facebook page has become key to keeping in touch and there is a whole host of virtual activities many of which have a timetable for those who like structure in their lives (Tuesday Tea at Three, Yoga Live). Parks in Mind sent out a programme to all their members, so no-one felt abandoned and it’s packed full of advice and things to do. From sharing photos together of beautiful scenes you see during exercise, to using Facebook Live for a bird walk with an expert to ID bird calls at dawn chorus in a local woods … they’ve found so many ways to be creative and stay in touch despite #lockdown. A valuable service, Parks In Mind is a co-production between Public Health Dorset, Bournemouth Borough Council and Bournemouth Parks Foundation. Bravo!