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Why did 850 people queue up to volunteer?

Posted on 13 November 2014

At Groundwork we have to work hard to stop ourselves calling a spade a Manual Excavation Device.

Our natural instinct tends to be to tell people that we 'deliver positive outcomes for individuals in local super output areas with a high score on the index of multiple deprivation'.

I suspect it's because creating better and greener neighbourhoods means forming close working relationships with local government and other parts of the public sector. This kind of language, like all jargon, is great for specialists for whom it provides precision or who prize it as efficient shorthand.

For most people though, it is as clear as mud. We just want to make things better.Bulb planting

In any case, where I live any conversation between neighbours - technical or not - is likely to be drowned out by the drone of motorway traffic passing through spaghetti junction. And, in the few years I've lived here, I've not been aware of a strong sense of community.

It's an area that needs it.

By no means the place in Birmingham facing the greatest challenges, it’s still in the 20% most deprived places in the UK and feels generally unloved. Litter is endemic, some front gardens are full of defunct furniture and weeds, graffiti hints at racial tensions and people tend to walk more briskly as soon as it gets dark.

Yet last weekend I saw hundreds of people waiting for several hours for their turn to volunteer. Whole families and people of all ages and backgrounds, queueing patiently for their chance to contribute.

What brought us together?

Our local park and a bulb planting world record.

Every day at Groundwork we see examples of shared green spaces bringing diverse communities together, that’s one of the reasons why we care so much about them so much. But that alone doesn’t explain the apparent change.

Being involved in something big was certainly part of the reason. Taking part in a world record attempt is a fun activity and makes you feel like you’ve done something special. Another reason is that this was micro-volunteering – a bite size form of volunteering that is growing in popularity as our lives get busier.

But rather than this being a spontaneous Big Society style phenomenon, organised for and by local people, the real reason is lots of hard work behind the scenes. People who had the time to plan and organise, know the language of local government and know the right contacts made the whole thing possible. In this case it was the council, local police and Glendale UK who found partners like Interserve to support the event, filled in the right forms, worked out the logistics and knocked on people’s doors.

Creating a project 

Do you have a big idea for a community project but aren't sure where to start?

Take a look at our handy guide.

Last weekend proved that there are lots of people who care about our local area and want to do something about it. But it’s crucial knowledge about how to get things done and time to get people organised that is often missing in neighbourhoods like mine.

That’s why you often need an intermediary like Groundwork to get things going. Residents who we’ve worked with have told me that before working with Groundwork they didn’t even feel able to talk to anyone wearing a suit. But it’s always inspiring to hear that now we’ve supported them to turn their dream into reality they often have a new idea - and there’s no stopping them putting it into action on their own.

Sometimes you have to be able to speak the right language before you can put your Manual Excavation Device to good use.

Update April 2015
All that hard work has paid-off as thousands of have all started to flower this April. Check out the photos:

Daffodils at Brookvale park

John Biddle Walk sign at Brookvale Park 

Daffodils at Brookvale park 

 Post by Ben Leach, Groundwork UK