Joe McKenna of ParkWork shares his experiences of the project, which provides experience and training in a parks setting to lift both the skills and employment prospects of participants and the amenity of the parks.
The ParkWork project, a scheme that helps people to gain horticultural skills and work experience whilst maintaining public parks, has been running with volunteer teams for over nine months now and we have learnt a lot from this initial period which will help us to move forward and make improvements.
Working with various departments of Bristol City Council (BCC) and also many park action groups the team has had a steady stream of varied practical tasks to complete and these have been ideal for offering the work based training and skills development which we set out to do while at the same time making improvements to parks and open spaces.
Having the support and guidance from Nesta has not only kept us in contact with other similar projects around the country but has also made us regularly look at and question what we are doing and how we are going about it. For example completing the learning logs has made me look back over the last few weeks and pick out what aspects have been successful and what has been a challenge and needs to be considered in the next period.
The work with Jennifer (the financial expert enlisted to support Rethinking Parks teams) has guided us through putting the figures together which will help us write our business plan and has already been crucial in aiding us to secure financial support for the second year from BCC. This funding from BCC will enable us to look at different options for bringing in revenue and also for recruiting and retaining volunteers.
Recruiting and retaining volunteers is something which we will need to look at in detail and improve if we are to keep a constant volunteer team. Re-connecting with agencies and looking at what we are offering volunteers are both areas which I feel are a priority.
Moving forward, in to the second year of the project, I will be meeting with more park action groups to look at possible funded projects for the ParkWork team. We will also be able to take on more varied work as we can now train volunteers in the safe use of petrol strimmers and hedge-trimmers. This will be very useful to anyone with a wish to go into grounds maintenance work and could help us to establish the project as a feeder for employment within the parks department or similar.
Our original plan was that we would be able to at least partly fund the project by charging the agencies for our placements. This has proven difficult and our focus has turned to our contract work for BCC and other agencies for which we will charge a day rate to cover costs and potentially allow us to offer a certain amount of days in the year free to parks groups to lead volunteer days in their park.
Rethinking Parks was a £1 million Big Lottery Fund, Heritage Lottery Fund and Nesta programme designed to find, support and test new business models to sustain the UK's public parks.