Engaging with Communities in a New Neighbourhood

Although COMFund project tenure is about to end, I feel I have full energy to continue with my project and take the learning experiences forward.  This is also giving me the opportunity to evaluate my work by exploring what worked and what was difficult to achieve, what lessons I have learned to take these experiences forward, such as power play, long term conflict that interfered my project work and interrupted its flow.  Considering all these and with the ambition of learning new ideas, listening to dreams and visions of others,  I have recently broadened my area of listening and engaging with community for my COMFund project.  The area where I am working is a neighbourhood close to the Heartland Hospital, bordering with East Bordesley Green.  This area is also under Hodgehill district. I have noticed people from this area pass by the Ideal park quite often.  There is also the Kingfisher conservation park located closed to this neighbourhood.  One of the reasons that I have decided to broaden my area of listenings in this location is because I am hoping residents may identify some issues in their park which are common to those in Ideal park and may come up with some ideas to resolve the problems.  Engaging with the residents of this aera exposed me to some fresh ideas on how do people think about their local issues, such as smelly clogged streams from the River Cole that run through the park, sporadic fly tipping in the park, and how would they like to take part to resolve some of those problems, what are their knowledge about Localism Act, and if so, whether they would like to know about this? etc. Some of the residents in this area are also aware of the Ideal park and the issues surrounding its run down condition, such as  power politics, mistrust among stakeholders groups etc.  Some of them also compared and contrasted the issues surrounding Kingfisher conservation park with the Ideal park. As my listening continues, I am meeting few more enthusiast people in this area who’re showing interest to become volunteers and I also spoken to one of the local community leaders who has a vision about the area, and also a member of the Friends gorup of this Kingfisher Park.  I’ve set up an appointment to meet the Friends group.

 

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A Learning Experience: Visit to a Park project that Applied Our Place Approach

“Passion, enthusiasm and hard labour of the volunteers were the driving force behind bringing the park project ideas into reality… such as this fabulous orchard ..” said Linda Hines, the leader of the Friends group of Witton Lodge Park in Perry Common. 

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Linda explaining the idea behind the eco-hub and the community orchard

On 20th April, as part of our COMFund learning experience, we went to visit the Witton Lodge Park open day the event in Perry Common in Birmingham.  The day was full of fun, guided tour to the project site and sharing of experiences and inforamation. Like the vision of the residents of Ideal Village in Bordesley Green area of Birmingham regarding their little park, the Witton Lodge park users also has a vision … that is “creating a living park that is well-used and managed for wellbeing of the people”.  The Friends group of Witton Lodge is highly inspired to turn their park to an Urban Wellbeing Park (UWP).  The intended outcomes from the development of UWP are many-folded.  They want to reduce social isolation of local people and embrace social cohesion as the project targets to reach out residents from all backgrounds and engage them to learn, play, volunteer and work towards improvement of the park. One of the strongest focus of the UWP initiative is to build a real community ownership of the Witton Lodge park that is owned and managed by local people.

Attending the event was a good learning experience for us to understand how a common concern, such as protecting green space and biodiversity and safeguarding local parks and the green environment can unite a diverse community. Urban parks and green spaces in West Midlands are under severe threat of declining and there is a drastic reduction in public spend on parks as well. This is same in case of Bordesley Green where I am carrying out RSLM listening for my COMFund project. But the people in Perry Common not only shared their vision with others but worked together with local neighbours towards improving their area, and protecting the green space by applying a systems approach, i.e. the Our Place approach. By utilising its various tools, the group analysed their problems, and identified threats and opportunities. The volunteers and Friends group members formulated an operational plan, designed their project logic framework, and prepared a cost and benefit analysis. Their united effort brought success. The friends of the Park group has a strong leadership, commitment and perseverance. After the conference, Linda took us all for a tour to the park.  We went to the Velvet Community Orchard which is the part of the eco-hub.  Below are some photographs of this orchard. Upon return we had a reflection among our group of volunteers as to what lessons we can learn from this visit and how we will proceed with learning the Our Place approach.

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Visitors stroll around the community orchard             Herbs are growing in Tyre containers 

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Volunteers prepared few wooden containers for growing plants 

“Volunteering for COMFund project has increased my confidence” Sajida Khatoon (COMFund volunteer)

Sajida, the COMFund volunteer of Ideal Park project lives near the Ideal village park. Below is a brief statement from her about her experience of getting involved with the project.

“When Furqan, my youngest son was only 3 years’ old I came to Bordesley Green to live with my family. Ideal Park, at that time, was the centre of attraction in this area, especially local residents used to come to stroll in this park or bring their picnics or visit the park after wedding for their wedding photography”.  …”but the Park is not the same anymore… the park memorial is vandalised and the water fountain is completely broken, the benches and the park keeper’s hut are vanished from the park, there are pot holes in the pathways.  One of my neighbours named John loves the park so much that despite such run down condition, each year he plants daffodils and tulip bulbs in this park”…. “Couple of months ago John told me the history of the Park, local community don’t know the heritage importance of this little park, the history is precious to us all and users of the park need to know this, and should respect the importance of this place”.

“When the COMFund project started I started volunteering and shadowing during listening and conversation activities with the local communities about this park. By door knocking and engaging with communities, having focus group meetings with local residents who feel passionately about the wellness of the park and listening are unique experiences.  When people think of local resources are community resources, good citizenship starts to emerge. However, poverty and social deprivation make people self-centered.  Bordesley Green is a poor and run down area. Local council has no money to improve or repair services.  On the issue of the Park, many local residents suggested the park needs to be improved, yet nobody came forward to do anything for the park. We, the volunteers, raised a bit of money recently to purchase a bench for the Ideal Park but the amount is not enough, we need to raise more money and organise another fund raising event in the Park so to be able to buy one. Recently with help from other volunteers we carried out a participatory priority analysis by using Venn Diagramming method and had a useful conversations among ourselves to identify what are our priorities about the Park…” (photo attached).

“Being inspired to work for the Park and make the COMFund project successful, I’ve started a women’s walking group with my neighbours. The local Leisure Centre came to know about this and appreciated the action. They approached me and asked if I will be interested to take the role of a walk leader and lead a small walking group as well. This boosted my enthusiasm further. Meantime I encouraged more women and girls to join my already existing walking group. Every morning we all meet at the Park and start our walk from there. I believe if we want to make our parks safe, we need to increase our presence in the parks”.

“Working as a volunteer for this project has raised the level of my confidence and improved communication skills. I made contacts with people whom I never met before. All these has increased my mobility.  Couple of months ago, I have successfully passed a job interview and started working as a school dinner supervisor”.

“I believe working as a volunteer has changed my vision of life and has encouraged others to join in to this mission .  The project is a changing agent and has created positive impact on my life and on others who also came forward to volunteer. I would like to make the Ideal park project successful”.

Ideal Village Park Community Meeting

 

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Ideal village residents’ forum meeting: sharing the RSLM listening results

“We’re lucky that we’ve a park” ….

“My vision of the Park is to make it a safer and cleaner place so that we can take our children there without a fear”….

“A formalized Friends Group of the Park can open up opportunities for children, their parents, and for the young and old to get involved in different activities in the Park”….

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The Flyer                     Comments from the Participants in the Meeting

On Wednesday, 3rd February, 2016, local residents, project volunteers, parent’s advisor from local school etc. all came together to share their love and concerns about the Ideal Park at St. Paul’s Church.  One of the residents spoke passionately about the history of the village and the park and quoted a renowned historian who wrote about the heritage importance of the Park. They also talked about their vision for the park and outlined a plan to proceed.  In this meeting I also invited a representative from the Birmingham Open Spaces Forum (BOSF) who proposed to assist the residents to form a Friends group that may open up opportunities for the Friends to get involved with various activities in the park, such as creating an orchard, designing a garden and planting flower beds, they can also apply for grants to put few benches and litter bins and refurbish the monument in the Park.  Forming a Friends of the Park group requires a constitution, code of conducts for the Friends, and needs a structure, such as a Chair, Vice Chair, Treasurer etc. Despite some of the residents shared their negative feelings about the Park while reflecting what had happened in the past, such as vandalism, and anti-social behaviour, etc., it appeared at the end residents agreed to form a Friends of the Park group.

The meeting ended with few action plans for next meeting which are the followings:

  • Influence local residents adjacent to the park to be member of the Friends group
  • Review the proforma of a Friends of the Park constitution
  • Set up aims and objectives as the group prioritizes
  • Decide how frequently do the group would like to meet and
  • Finalize the Friends Group

To my opinion, by forming a Friends group, community will be organised towards bringing their shared vision of improving the park into a reality, and their passion to improve the park will open up opportunity to apply the Our Place methodology in a participatory manner, and to utilize its various tools.  As Sajida and Shakila, the park volunteers, pointed out “We have already started walking group in the Park and more women have joined in since then.”

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Women’s walk group in Ideal Park

 

 

 

Listening in the Ideal Park

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Speaking to Maria in Ideal park about parks in her hometown in Bucharest, Romania.

Over the past year I have spent much time listening the views of the community of Bordesley Green neighbourhood of Birmingham who regularly use the Ideal village park.  This park used to be a famous village park where people used to come to visit, take family photos on special occasions, such as wedding photos, sometime they used to bring a small picnic.  People shared these memories, also talked about their visions and dreams about the future of the park, ideas of improving the park.  Since the Locality’s Community Mobilization project came into effect, I have been conducting some more listenings, engaging with communities who has newly arrived in the neighbourhood and are part of various activities. They are frequent visitors of the Ideal park especially during summer I spotted them in the park and had the opportunity to speak to them and listening to their ideas on how they would like to improve the park.

This has provided a good background to people’s vision with regards the park and by making use of Our Place methodology it is hoped that a Friends of the Park can be formed.  This will enable the friends of the park group to design an operational plan, take responsibilities of managing their own park, cost out expenses to refurbish the park and apply for the a grant.  It is envisaged that while applying various participatory tools and techniques of Our Place method community will be able to persuade their local authority council to take part in their effort of managing their park, as well as share responsibilities of winning the bidding process and / or develop Ideal Park as the people wish it to be.

I met Maria in the Park with her family. She told me park and green spaces are precious for city dwellers in her hometown in Bucharest, Romania.  Municipality provides benches and litter bins in the park and people use them respectfully.  Despite there are no benches in the Ideal park, yet she finds the space a daily respite from her mundane work, and a place of convivial environment where she can laugh with her children and other family members and can be just late to return home.  She and her family are among 50 other local residents whom I have engaged in conversation recently shared their concerns about degradation of the place, and the dilapidated condition of the park and would like to see a change.  Our Place approach may be an opportunity if community engagement will be successful.