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Engaging Environments: impacting the wider community

How can green space volunteering projects benefit the wider community? The third post in a blog series about the Engaging Environments project in Birmingham written by our former Community Engagement Officer, Rob Tilling.

Bringing people, tools and coffee together to work collectively for a few hours once a week can have a huge impact upon a local area.

By bringing people together in green spaces we build community between those people; we build friendships, emotional and practical support networks and information exchange hubs. Yet, the people “around” us, to wit passersby, are also a part of our emerging community. The presence of a regularly-meeting group on a patch of land is a very comforting sight to people who may be isolated themselves, uncomfortable to be in spaces seen as potentially dangerous or wishing for spaces to be cared for and better-managed.

 

 

The presence of people on open land is viewed in a very positive light by local police, and “ordinary”, non-threatening individuals from the community can be a very comforting encounter for people walking through an area alone. The work that is being carried out does not always concern passersby, they are happy to know that an area is “inhabited” and cared for. This care in itself is recognised by less socially-minded members of society; spaces that are being cared for and managed are less prone to littering and other anti-social behaviour. It is off-putting to potential wrong-doers to see care and attention being given to a space. 

Passersby regularly engage with community practitioners in a greenspace, and also with community members taking part in activities. This additional dynamic to greenspace working should not be unrecognised; people often “watch” what is happening for months or even years before becoming involved with the work. They may, however, engage in the meantime. Some passersby make a regular detour in order to drop into a greenspace session since they know that approachable, friendly individuals will be encountered there. A few friendly exchanges on the way to the supermarket to buy breakfast can lift spirits for the whole day: “Very good. Keep up the good work” 

What does “keep up the good work” mean though? Do people care what the work is, do they see the practical work as primary or secondary? Perhaps the “good work” is simply being visible, present and happy to engage with them for a few moments on a Monday morning. 

 


This blog is part of a series of vignettes written by our former Community Engagement Officer, Rob Tilling. Rob shares his experiences and encounters with different volunteers who took part in our NERC-funded ‘Engaging Environments’ project in Birmingham. The aim of 'Engaging Environments' is to adapt citizen science projects such as Earthwatch’s Naturehood programme in a way that meets the needs of different communities and to make environmental science more inclusive. Rob established a series of locations – allotments, areas of council land and neglected green spaces, where people can come together and undertake practical tasks which are good for wildlife and nature but also for their own wellbeing. In line with the mission of Naturehood, the aim is to inspire people to take action for wildlife in their own gardens and green spaces. The NERC 'Engaging Environments' project continues. A documentary about this project can be watched here.

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