Here are some methods Friends groups are using to promote themselves and their parks (based on a discussion held by London Friends of Green Spaces Network).
What works often depends on the demographics of the local community; there’s no one size fits all. Talk to people and make it easy for them to sign up for example with stalls at events. The Borough Health and Well-Being Board can fund publicity, it is worth checking your council’s funding schemes, New members don’t necessarily translate instantly into new volunteers, it may take time. Build up contact lists and over time and eventually this should help to recruit volunteers.
Projects and partnering with local groups
Partnering e.g. with schools, sports clubs, runners, dog-walkers is a great way to gain members. You support them and they support you. Co-opt user groups onto your Friends group!
One group in Lewisham created raised beds for a local disabled school and other beds for another school, so those children all know about the park and Friends group.
Then schools can publicise the group to parents too. Projects are a great way to engage people, either getting people to help or talking to them while you are doing some activity or a project in the park. One group had worked with a school to create a digital nature trail, with the kids talking and recording the information for each point on the trail and also taking photographs.
These are usually built up over years through proactive work at events and word of mouth. Lordship Rec have built theirs up over 5 years to 1,400 members. The email lists can be easily managed with an email marketing tool like Mailchimp (free for up to 2000 contacts).
- The seven largest social media channels are: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest, and Reddit. Each channel can reach different audiences. LinkedIn is business orientated, just choose the ones you think will be used by your main target market.
- Perhaps allocate someone to manage different social media channels, this means they can concentrate on one element.
- Facebook can be great. Harrow Parks have a single Facebook page which promotes all events in all the parks in Harrow. Last year they used their Facebook to promote 78 events – each of the boroughs’ Friends groups can post events or they can send them to Harrow Parks Forum, who make a lively banner and post it.
- They have steadily built up over one thousand “likes” on the Harrow Parks Facebook page. Other local user groups, such as running groups, are now coming to them to advertise their activities and events. They can share this with for example, the local health forum and other interested providers and ‘Harrow Parks’ is now a real brand in Harrow which helps them gain access to the council and others. Harrow Parks Forum feel Facebook is good because they capture a key demographic – women aged 35-44; this is helpful because this demographic has children, partners, older parents and their own local friends networks who can all also benefit from knowing about what is going on in local parks.
- Sometimes Facebook doesn’t work and Twitter and Insta work better for other groups. On Twitter you can directly engage groups around the park by using their Twitter username @xxx in any tweet. Twitter is often used by local Councillors and so is a useful tool to communicate with them and a quick and effective way to engage the local Council.
- Whatsapp Groups -some park user groups have a Whatsapp group e.g. dog walkers groups.
Gather contacts at your own events BUT it is also worthwhile having a stall at other organisations’ events. Litter picking works for some but not others: these engage lots of people in some parts of London – but in other parts they are the least popular means of engaging people.
Walks which allow visitors to learn about their park, such as tree walks, bat and bird walks, Autumn and Spring Walks, history walks – are often very popular.
Health and Wellbeing Walks: Lewisham run Health Walks on a borough-wide basis. These are a good way to raise awareness of all the different friends groups in the borough e.g. if you go on the walk and get people’s emails or hand out leaflets. There are walks every day of the week, usually more than one walk per day some targeted at particular groups of society. Health walks can be for specific issues like dementia or bereavement.
The Haringey Parks Forum has produced a Walking Tours booklet with routes which take in different parks and also a ‘Tottenham café trail’. Broomfield Park in Enfield hold Blues in the Park during August on Sundays and have a stall there.
Harrow Parks Forum use the events they publicise via their Harrow Parks facebook page to gain more members. Harrow Parks Forum run events in parks called Harrow Nature Heroes to engage young people more and promote volunteering.
Southwark Park have organised events around the 150 years anniversary. They had a local well-known author do an event, for example. This helps to engage a wider range of people. Doing walks for specific groups for example hearing impaired, can help to encourage people to enjoy the park who might find it difficult otherwise. Jubilee Country Park had their first ‘Meadow Day’ and Wildflower Walk with guests like Friends of the Earth.
Be aware, events don’t necessarily translate automatically into increased membership for your group, it is important to be proactive at events and get people to sign up to e-lists or join Facebook groups etc., perhaps have a stall signing people up there and then, or have someone from your Friends Group tasked with handing out leaflets and with a sign-up form.
These are a good way of letting people know you exist, they can signal where more information can be found including details of upcoming events. Some Friends groups have the key to noticeboards on site and help with keeping them tidy and fresh. Be careful that they are weather protected if you are putting leaflets up, but also beware that some boards suffer with condensation which makes it very hard to see what’s inside.
Petitions can be a great way to engage a large number of people and usually you have access to their contact details. You can email them for around a year after the petition is set up. In Barnet they are petitioning against the opening of parks at night, for example. They have slowly built signatures up to 1,300. They then went back to them and now have 16 people who would like to set up a borough forum.
Direct leaflet drops – Lordship Rec do this for events – they deliver up to 2,000 households door to door at any one time and then move to a different set of households next time. They recognise that not all people respond to leaflets and they need to do more on social media. One group did a leaflet drop for the Big Lunch. Leaflets can be useful to reach those not on the internet.
Whether online or on paper, keep them bright and clear! One group reported that they continue to put posters up around the park but these are reducing in effectiveness – and feel they might need to do more on social media instead.
Large waterproof banners which can be placed at park entrances, for example, are relatively cheap now and can be used at events or to advertise events (though ideally would be reusable).
Estate Agents Boards
Estate agents in some areas have been happy to put up board to advertise events in parks and have even given out leaflets about the park friends group in their welcome pack for buyers.
Word of mouth! Nothing is better than a heartfelt recommendation from someone you respect. Please help spread the word!
Produced by the London Friends of Green Spaces Network, following a Friends Groups’ discussion on the subject.
You can read and download the report on “How To Promote Your Group” from the PAGCE events workshop discussions here.