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Engaging Environments: overcoming cultural barriers

How can greenspace volunteering help break down perceived cultural barriers? The sixth post in a blog series about the Engaging Environments project in Birmingham written by our former Community Engagement Officer, Rob Tilling.

Negassi* has had many worries in his life in recent years. His home country is war-torn and his family is spread across the globe. He has been in the UK for ten years and found work here, but he misses life on the land. His home in England is not in a scenic or welcoming part of Birmingham. He craves a safe outdoor space and more connection with nature.

Until we knocked at his door and handed him a flyer, he felt isolated and anxious about engaging with his local green spaces and was unaware of open space activities in his local area. He travelled to work with us, feeling happy to be out of the immediate fear of “home”. The welcoming space he entered was able to link Negassi back with his home country, happier times, nature and the land itself.

His first work session saw him setting a work pace that few could keep up with. He had clearly worked hard before in his life. “I know about farming... I did it back home” he said, and he was quite correct in this. Despite being unfamiliar with some of the plants we were working with, he was able to learn quickly and give a lot in terms of labour.

Negassi is shy, but he finds it easy to express himself through the labour he carries out with us. He is a strong, reliable and determined volunteer; unafraid of unpleasant weather.

Birmingham has many people like Negassi in it. People have brought knowledge and skills from all corners of the planet to this city and they have much to offer us. It is our job to identify how we can include these people and give them meaningful access to the land and to projects working in these spaces. 

Negassi has very different life experiences from many other volunteers, yet he shares much with us. By working on a shared vision together, we level whatever cultural differences exist and allow people to build community.

*name has been changed to protect anonymity 


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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