Thursday 28th February 2019 – Tottenham, London
40 reps and members of active greenspace Friends and community groups came together in what may have been the first ever UK greenspace community empowerment conference.
The event was called and coordinated by the Parks Community UK project, which is a lottery-funded initiative – backed by a range of national greenspace organisations – helping to embed community empowerment in the UK’s green spaces. It is managed by the Friends of Lordship Rec, who are working with Friends Groups from 10 other pilot sites to help strengthen community influence and involvement in the maintenance, management and future of their green spaces. Lordship Rec is co-managed by the community and Haringey Council.
A key outcome from the Parks Community UK project will be a ‘one-stop shop’ website set up for the benefit of all UK Friends Groups to be able to access the information, advice and inspiration they need to be successful. This site is planned to go ‘live’ in June, and eventually transferred – for its long-term management and sustainability – to the National Federation of Parks and Green Spaces (the umbrella body for the grassroots movement of over 6,000 local Friends Groups).
Those attending the conference were from 8 project pilot sites in London, and one each from Peterborough and Manchester. These had already been actively involved in the project for 6 months so were able to ‘hit the ground running’ at the event in terms of the focus on getting to grips with what community empowerment truly means in practice for our public green spaces and how to encourage, promote and develop it.
There were discussions in detail and in depth on how to strengthen Friends groups and their influence over the future of their green spaces as they seek to improve them. Views and experiences were shared in order to learn from each other; identify the many common issues and challenges faced; and to work out some of the ways to achieve their goals.
During the morning session, each group introduced itself. Organisers presented feedback from visits undertaken to each of the pilot sites. This was followed by ‘break out’ discussions on: ‘What does community empowerment look like?’. To round the morning off, there was a short presentation and discussion: ‘Ladder of Participation’. (See this website’s How To guides on these issues).
Participants took part in a walk around Lordship Rec to learn about the park, its community-led regeneration, and how user groups are actively promoted and involved at all levels in decision-making and management. This was followed by a delicious lunch provided by the venue, the community-run Lordship Hub.
In the afternoon there were 3 workshops: ‘How to improve relationships with owners/managers’; ‘How to improve relationships with stakeholders/user groups’; and ‘Strengthening our own groups and overcoming challenges – what do we need to do to get our groups working well and how might we achieve this?’.
In the last session, the plans for the new website were unveiled in order to generate discussion and feedback on its look and content. Finally, there was a brief discussion about the purpose and progress of the development of Group Action Plans for each of the pilot sites. And event feedback forms were filled in.
- There’s a wealth of experience, knowledge, skills, passion and determination in Friends Groups
- Groups benefit greatly from being able to share and exchange experiences, news and views, as well as encouraging and inspiring each other
- Members of groups are active at all levels, from the small daily particulars of maintaining sites and talking to fellow users, to running events and projects, to developing vision and strategies for improvements
- Friends Groups have demonstrated many times over their potential to make a real difference to their sites, their communities, and for effective partnership working with park management
- Groups often are based around a core of very active members within a much larger interested but more passive membership, backed by widespread public support
“The Friends Groups’ movement never ceases to amaze and inspire. This special event focused on what community empowerment entails and how it can be actively encouraged and supported. It demonstrated the incredible strength and depth in our communities of experience, wisdom, skills, patience, passion and determination – and what can be achieved through collective organisation and action. “
Dave Morris, Parks Community UK