What do you need to do to create more effective communications and support each other? Learn what works and see examples from other Friends groups.
Friends groups generally exist to protect, promote and improve their public green space. There are also specific user groups (community ’stakeholders’) who use the site:
Examples of community ‘stakeholders’
- Sports teams
- Community Rooms
- Gardening Club
- Parent and toddler group
- Walking/Cycling groups
- Wildlife Societies
- Nature Conservation Groups
- Local adjacent school
- Nearby Residents
- History Society
- Dog owners
- Local church
In order to represent these users and understand their needs, you must regularly link up and support each other. Groups will have their own interests, activities and issues, so listening to them is important. Common ground can be found on things such as maintenance and enhancement of the site and its facilities.
It is beneficial for the site if all stakeholders can support each other and work together as and when needed. Consider agreeing a joint aim, such as increasing the level of active community engagement, involvement and empowerment at your site.
Friends of groups don’t always work – they can drift apart. This is usually because they don’t move beyond talking to getting things done. This causes problems not only in developing membership, but also in terms of how they are viewed by the wider parks community. Successful friends groups work in partnership(Hammersmith & Fulham Council)
Top tips to help build relationships
Understand other viewpoints
Each group brings new people and contributes something invaluable to the bigger picture, and will articulate its own views and needs. Often these needs overlap with other stakeholders. Sometimes there can be some conflict, if this happens both parties need to seek shared values and regardless of the outcome, build on this shared energy. Community groups have their own challenges and ups and downs, dependant as they are on the capacity and enthusiasm of their volunteers/activists – not to be taken for granted!
For participation to work, there needs to be underlying individual and collective motivation (Mannarini et al., 2010), which may stem from specific issues of interest and/or locality of interest (Barnes et al., 2008). Partner members may not represent all green space users and have different agendas: understanding the nature and existence of motivation is important to identify the expectations held by a partnership, of themselves as individuals/organisations and of other partners.From “Place-keeping in action: Evaluating the capacity of green space partnerships in England”
(Alice Mathers, Nicola Dempsey, Julie Frøik Molin – 2015)
Partnership capacity in Place-keeping
Relationships take time to develop, formally and informally, including developing levels of mutual understanding and trust, whilst working out a range of practical mechanisms for communication and co- operation. Often diplomacy can be needed.
Good partners make sure they work for each other as well as themselves. If you can help your partner, with or without any specific return, they will be more open to supporting you in future. Publicising each other’s activities and events is an easy thing to do but is often overlooked.
Develop good contacts
Make the effort to connect with all the user groups, discover who have influence and who has time to engage.
Establish what are the favoured communication methods for each user group and ensure you find out full names and roles and swop contact details. You may want to create an online private group using social media or an app. You could set up a group email list for discussions and to ensure all groups get updates. Be mindful not everyone is online, so a mixture of communication tools often works best to ensure no-one feels excluded.
Think long term and try to phone, email or meet partners regularly. Face to face meetings, usually just between contacts or reps of each group, can be crucial as these establish personalities and allow nuanced conversations. There may also be cross-over of membership among various user groups. The goodwill and practical ways of working together can take a step forward when collaborating around certain events, activities and projects.
Make sure to thank partners when things are working well. Discuss what you are both aiming to achieve in future – can you align your activities or goals to theirs in some way, and vice versa?
Work together for the good of your site
In some sites all stakeholder groups are invited to meet up together regularly to share news and views, discuss maintenance and management issues and bring up issues and proposals for improvements. Such meetings are usually initiated and chaired by the Friends or the site managers. Often it is the groups based onsite who attend most regularly.
Ultimately, if user groups work together it helps manage the site and develops long term community engagement and empowerment. It enables your site to be the best it can be.
Friends with thriving user groups:
Friend of Lordship Rec in Haringey, London.
They have had a Users Forum in operation since 2002, they aim to bring together all local groups, agencies and institutions who have an interest in Lordship Rec. This includes representatives of relevant Haringey Council departments, The Friends of Lordship Rec, local Residents Associations and other voluntary ecological or sports groups who operate in the Rec.
“Since the Forum has been in existence we have successfully bid for funding for three new play facilities and worked tirelessly for the successful bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund for major improvements,”Lordship Rec User Forum
Wythenshawe Park in Manchester.
Has three major voluntary user groups.
These three parks user groups work together to take an active interest in the greenspace and hall by making suggestions, volunteering, raising money for projects over and above the remit of existing budgets, and generally providing an important link with the local community. The links page on the Friends of Wythenshawe Park website gives a good idea of the range of park users they cater for.
Recommended further reading on the PCUK site: How to set up a Forum of Friends Groups. this also covers how to include Councils and Local Authority officers within your wider meet-ups. By joining together with like-minded groups you might be able to make a louder voice for parks and green spaces in your area.