Friends of Grove Park – pedal power for the people
In 2016 a group of Weston-super-Mare residents founded Friends of Grove Park, recognising the value of this central green space that had been suffering from littering, vandalism and antisocial behaviour.
By coming together and working alongside the council and other local organisations, these impassioned volunteers set about improving this beautiful Victorian park for the benefit of people and wildlife. Their aim was not only to transform it into a safe space for everyone, but also to support the health and wellbeing of local residents and promote a sense of community cohesion through public initiatives and events.
The Friends vary in age from 18 to 80 and come from a diverse range of backgrounds. Some are trained horticultural enthusiasts with a passion for making the park an amazing habitat for wildlife, while others are experienced educators, designers and artists who recognise the importance of the outdoor space as a learning resource and community hub. Some of the volunteers have learning difficulties, some are professionals with extensive experience of working with and supporting people with learning difficulties, while others have suffered homelessness and addiction. They all share an understanding of the challenges faced by these groups and the positive benefit of spending time outdoors. Combined, the volunteers give over four hundred hours of their time every month, using their expertise to improve the park experience for all members of the community.
At the centre of the Friends’ work are projects created to engage with marginalised groups. These include a ‘Mini Gardens’ project to encourage children from areas of social and economic deprivation to get involved in gardening; and an over-50’s gardening club with disabled access ‘veg beds’ to combat social isolation in older residents and those who suffer from mobility issues. The volunteers also undertake 12 hours of outreach work per week to foster and support links with local care services, through which they provide opportunities for nature-based activity as a therapeutic tool for people suffering from mental health issues.
The group’s lack of transport was proving to be their greatest obstacle. Grove Park sits on a steep slope, with the group’s yard halfway up the hill. This makes it hard to work at the top of the site, particularly among the older volunteers, while workshops and events usually take place close to the yard, instead of making the most of the park’s other areas. The group also has an external allotment to support the projects. Using public transport to travel between the two sites and to ferry plants and resources was becoming more and more difficult, expensive and at odds with their environmental principles. Without their own transport, the volunteers were unable to take gardening activities away from the park, for example to schools and mental health care providers.
In January 2021, Friends of Grove Park contacted SMV with a request for £1,946 to help them purchase an electric bike. The e-cargo bike would solve many of the volunteers’ transport problems, improving the effectiveness of the group’s daily operations, reducing their costs and diversifying their activities.
With its capacity for carrying heavy loads, the bike has made working at the park much easier for the volunteers since its arrival and it is helping them to reduce their carbon footprint.
The group can now transport their equipment from the yard to anywhere on the hill and subsequently they have started hosting workshops at the prominent bandstand at the bottom of the park, which has resulted in more interest from the public. In the summer of 2022 the group ran a series of free craft and activity workshops for local families that attracted as many as 40 participants during each two-hour event.
Friends of Grove Park believe the bike is enabling them to increase the scope of their work, as well as taking their outreach work, focusing on the benefits of outdoor activity, to more people in the local community.
All the parks users, from volunteers to workshop attendees, have benefitted from the bike and the volunteers were even able to attend a mental health conference with all of their resources (right)