Friends Groups have endured a Spring of limited scope as lockdown rules, designed to limit the spread of COVID-19, made normal volunteer activities impossible. We shared in a previous post how parks and greenspaces up and down the country showed remarkable resilience and creativity, finding ways to continue giving invaluable assistance to their sites.
Summer has now landed and Friends groups find themselves entering a new phase of recovery with the gradual lifting of some of the restrictions the government imposed in March. Because health is a devolved matter, UK ministers cannot enforce a UK-wide approach, so each country has developed their own plan to full recovery:
In some areas, parks and greenspace Friends volunteers continued doing some practical on-site activities despite the lockdown, as long as it was part of their daily exercise. We received reports of litter picking, tree watering, mulching and sign creation to help communicate lockdown rules to all visitors. However, many groups were told to completely curtail any activities on site, under advice from their Council.
Thankfully, we are now seeing many sites permitting a wider range of volunteering activities to take place, provided it is within the relevant countries rules for meeting outdoors which are:
- England – Up to 6 people from different households
- Scotland – Two households, up to a maximum of 8 people
- Wales – Two households, no maximum number of people
- N Ireland – Up to 6 people from different households
When taking part in volunteer activities the need to practice safe distancing is still paramount.
“You should keep two metres apart from people not in your household at all times”Cabinet Office, UK Governement Guidance ‘Staying alert and safe (social distancing)’
To assist Friends groups to return to undertaking volunteer tasks, we share here some examples of newly written COVID-19 specific guidelines, drawn up to help keep everyone safe. We hope by sharing these, it helps to achieve a best practice standard and avoid the time-consuming repetition of each Group having to create their own guidelines from scratch.
We thank all those who have shared their guidelines and risk assessments with us. Here is a very basic advice letter received by one group from their Council. In March the Council had sent out an instruction that all volunteer activity must cease.
(*note the limit of 2 has now changed to 6 as it’s an English Council):
“May 18th 2020
With the gradual easement of the lockdown, some of you have been asking whether you can now resume activities in your park such as planting, weeding, litter picks etc. Whilst we do not want to discourage you from getting involved, we would remind you to please continue to stay alert and stay 2 meters apart whilst in the park:
If with friends, family or group members, please remember that groups of no more than 2* people are allowed unless you are from the same household, and you should keep two meters apart from each other.
Where possible, avoid touching fixed objects such as hand rails and gates.
You should continue to take simple steps such as washing your hands regularly. It is important at this time for us all to follow good hygiene practices by washing our hands with soap and water often – use hand sanitiser gel if soap and water are not available
Tell us If you choose to take up an activity in your park as part of the Friends Group, please tell us where, when and what you will be doing. Please let us know with as much notice as possible. This is only so we know that you are on site and we can keep a record of any new planting you may have undertaken.
Please remember to follow the social distancing guidelines at all times.
Please note: There is the need for self-policing on behalf of park users, and we leave the onus with the park user to take responsibility for their own hygiene and actions when outside.
Please be aware that park users need to consider for themselves if they want to go outside and take up an activity. We cannot police gatherings in parks or dictate what equipment you should use once on site.
This guidance is under review and may change following the latest government advice.”
Two comprehensive advice guides from Birmingham Open Spaces Forum are hot off the press, they were produced in collaboration with Birmingham City Council and sent out to BOSF Friends Groups on 10th June 2020:
BOSF Open Spaces Volunteers Safe Operating Policy/Covid-19 and
BOSF Open Spaces Volunteers Risk Assessment/Covid-19
Many groups are adapting the excellent Parks for London guidelines which have sections specifically for Land Owners and Volunteers: Parks For London Coronavirus Guidelines For Volunteering In Parks
We also highly recommend looking at the latest advice from the Bristol City Council Parks team and Bristol Parks Forum (big shoutout for BCC volunteer co-ordinator Ella Hogg and BPF’s Rob Acton-Campbell 🙌), between them they have produced 3 very clear and practical downloadable pdfs.
Bristol Parks also make a good point regarding the need to control numbers; we think this is a very sensible request:
“To control numbers and ensure everyone’s safety, sessions will need to have a system of pre-booking. Please do not publicly advertise the dates and times of sessions in advance.”
Keep you eye on the ongoing work from the CFP UK team, who have “secured funding to develop a collaborative approach to further help the sector” with regards how to deal with the effects of COVID-19. They are working with APSE (Association for Public Service Excellence) and the Midlands Park Forum.
So far their “Response to Covid-19” includes case studies, research papers and a recovery planning paper on topics such as re-opening play areas and public toilets, content is aimed at parks staff/managers but there is also helpful sections covering volunteers – see extract below.
The full 23 pages of guidance can be downloaded from their website: http://www.cfpuk.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/Managing-Public-Parks-During-COVID-19-FINAL.pdf
Morphing out of this work there is a new parks professional-led grassroots forum – The Parks Management Forum. Inaugural members include APSE, The National Trust, LGA Culture/Sport, Heritage Fund UK and The Midland Parks Forum. There is a new Parks Management Forum website. With so much crossover between the park professionals and Friends Group volunteers we are glad to see this forum providing a new voice. We all want the same thing; for our parks and greenspaces to be recognised for the huge benefits they bring, to see them well managed and funded appropriately.
At the time of writing, we are still awaiting government advice on the safe re-opening and best practice for parks and greenspaces and how that will affect volunteers. We are told publication is imminent; as and when it is published by the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government we will update this post and provide a link.
Finally here’s a few short updates showing what other groups who use volunteers are doing:
RAMBLERS. All of our group walks and events have been suspended until further notice. Our top priority is the health of our members and volunteers, and to help suppress the spread of COVID-19. Please visit the Ramblers website for updates.
North Yorks Moors National Park
Outdoor volunteering is back under way from 6 June in a more limited form than usual. Volunteers are being invited to undertake a small number of specific tasks, which can be done safely. We are not yet ready to welcome back our volunteers working in groups, but we are pleased that we are able to take the first steps back towards our normal volunteering activities. We will be concentrating on providing the chance for existing volunteers to get back to work first, so we are not looking to take on anybody else for now. Keep an eye on the website though and we’ll let you know when this changes
Sustrans volunteers have been asked to suspend any volunteering activities that involve leaving your home. However, we want to make sure they stay connected as a Sustrans volunteer community. Our volunteer coordinators will keep in touch regularly. And they’ll share ways you can support fellow volunteers during this time. Our volunteer coordinators will keep in touch regularly. And they’ll share ways you can support fellow volunteers during this time.
TCV The Conservation Volunteers
We are The Conservation Volunteers
We know that at the present time TCV volunteers may still want to help their communities. For the first time in more than 60 years, we have suspended all our volunteering activities following Government guidelines. Here’s how you can volunteer to help and support others during the coronavirus pandemic. All our activities will undergo a COVID-19 Risk Assessment to ensure they are safe for anyone involved. All volunteer opportunities will be gradually introduced beginning with small scale projects so that we can ensure our safety measures are working.
Maintaining social distancing, good personal hygiene and the cleaning and sanitizing shared equipment and surfaces is a central theme running through all our risk assessments.
Offices, vehicles, and activities will be assessed and assigned a safe capacity to ensure social distancing can be maintained.