How can greenspace volunteering unite people with different backgrounds and interests? The fifth post in a blog series about the Engaging Environments project in Birmingham written by our former Community Engagement Officer, Rob Tilling.
Aftab* is not typical of one of our greenspace volunteers; he had already learned a lot when he first engaged with us. We first met him when he attended an event themed around an obscure fruit variety that he had already encountered. He is an enthusiastic, self-motivated learner, but he still felt that he had much to learn and he chose to take his armchair enthusiasm out into the world and to join in with some volunteering work. As well as an interest in obscure local heritage fruits, he wanted to learn more about forest gardening. Forest gardening is still an unusual practice in the UK; it only has small numbers of devotees and a tiny number of sites where volunteers can have a go at actually developing a forest garden site.
Despite the different starting point and more specific interests in the actual detail of the work we have been carrying out, Aftab worked alongside volunteers more interested in the timings of the next coffee break than the species of tree they were mulching. The practical, ground-level work of greenspace activities has a hugely powerful effect in bringing people together and levelling their experiences. Through working regularly on the site, both Aftab and a volunteer with little interest in the actual nature of the work were able to come together and feel connected with not just the site and the “nature” there, but also – perhaps more importantly – with each other. The growing of the community accompanies, and mirrors, the growing of the plants and the development of the space.
*name has been changed to protect anonymity