Cotteridge Park is the second stop with our guests from Holland and it was a beautiful day for a walk in Park, and weren’t the only ones to think so.
We arrived to find Emma Woolf of Friends of Cotteridge Park elbow deep in wood chippings in the Forest School with a group of girls from a nearby school.
The Forest school is just one feature the group have introduced since they became involved with the park – You can read about that in their chapter here:
But essentially, Emma tells us, It’s all about forging partnerships with volunteers, local schools and the local community. Today in the forest school, Year 9 field volunteers have helped create a path around the area using wood chippings from the railway that runs alongside the site, Contractors were there over the weekend cutting back and chipping the trees from over the tracks, “Can you chuck that over here?” Emma asked them, so they did and now it’s been put to good use.
They’ve also been cutting back the willow to make archways along the paths. The girls, Emma notes, like the craftier stuff and the boys, who usually come along to help Sunday mornings, like the heavier work like turning compost. Wendy, one of the other volunteers at the park, remarked of the paths the group were creating, the girls do curved lines the boys would have done straight ones.
We run the park in partnership with the local authority. They own it and they deal with the day to day upkeep so we can innovate. For instance one project is around outdoor excersize. Adults and children working out together in the park … this works on all levels but most of all because there is no funding for pretty green spaces but there is for health. Parks are outdoor gyms, we can keep people healthy and make our groups sustainable by applying for grants for things like walking groups, running groups etc…
We have 20 volunteers who help out regularly, but in addition to that we have 700 on our email list and different people get involved at different times. They are more likely to come along if it’s something they’re interested in and that’s ok. We’d rather they come an do a bit of something they like, be that weeding or building, than feel obliged to do something the don’t like and not want to come back again. in addition to these volunteers and our daily visitors, 5000 come annually to COCOMAD and we make the whole event free as far as possible.
Not everyone likes what we do, Some people think us working here brings people in and in turn causes anti social behaviour, but we think the opposite is true. Having people here using the park deters ASB and on the whole the community are proud of the park as they’ve done it themselves.
Even the kids get involved with things like litter picking and we hold regular spray paint workshops that they attend, decorating the park for themselves so we have very little problems with graffiti.
The pride the community have in their park really showed when we had our Green flag judging – the place had never looked so tidy, everyone was out in force picking up rubbish and making sure we looked our best.
(Paraphrased from the questions and answers with the visitors)
How does the partnership work out?
A. It’s been nothing but positive, we have a really good relationship with our park manager. We have a good understanding of their position, they’re restricted by funding so can’t do it all, but we can get them to support us. We can fund-raise and apply for funding to make things happen where they can’t and that works for all of us.
For instance the land for the Forest school we bought for £7000, £4000 raised by collections. £3000 donated. We bought it and then handed over the ownership to the local authority for the people of Cotteridge.
What do you fund-raise for?
A. Everything needs funds, be it the tennis courts need relaying, or for new the benches. Then there’s the festival we apply for grants, ask local business and have buckets in the park.
Is this your full time job?
A. No I’m a volunteer, it takes up time - but it’s a break away from my day job and I enjoy it. I get to play outside all day, in my wellies. I probably spend up to 2 days time working on the park, but I’ve now become involved in a city wide network “Birmingham Open Spaces Forum” which involves and supports other groups and that takes up some more of my time too.