How communities can breathe life into their green spaces: Friends of Huntingtree Park

I’m really pleased that one of the first groups I worked with since joining Dudley CVS, has now become a charity and it was lovely to pay them a visit earlier this week to see how they were getting on.

Friends of Huntingtree Park started in 2006 to address issues of antisocial behaviour in and around the park, which was causing the park to be underused and therefore unloved. Supported initially by my Dudley CVS colleague Kate, the Friends set up a simple constitution to formalise themselves as a voluntary group. They were also supported by a network of ‘Friends of…’ groups across Dudley borough and the local authority’s Parks Development team.

Friends groups are all sorts of shapes and types of not-for-profit organisation. Some are simple voluntary groups that don’t have much paperwork (in fact, many start this way), such as Friends of Grange Park, which I’ve helped to get set up in the last few months; others are registered charities and incorporated in some way because they have taken on more responsibilities. Some Friends of Parks groups work alongside the local authority to help keep their park looking attractive; some manage buildings on the park; others put on all sorts of events; some try to raise funds to improve facilities on the park; others do a combination of all of these things! Some groups focus on things like nature and biodiversity; others focus on health and social activities. It really depends on what kind of park and facilities are there and of course, on the kinds of things local people want to do on that particular park. I’ve met people from lots of different Friends groups and it’s clear that they have something in common. They all love their local green spaces and understand how important it is to protect them!

When I started working with Friends of Huntingtree Park in 2008, they were a simple voluntary group with a constitution and a determination to make their park an attractive environment that everyone could enjoy. Group members were passionate about involving children in the park, believing that if children had a sense of ownership in the park, the park would be loved for years to come.

FOHP Mosaic

Friends of Huntingtree Park planned a lovely project with Huntingtree and Lutley primary schools; bringing in borough artist, Steve Field, to design and make two mosaics which would be installed at the park’s entrances. I helped the group to access £10,000 in grant-funding from Awards for All and the now-defunct Grassroots Grants programme. The mosaics were installed and they still look beautiful!

Nowadays Friends of Huntingtree Park continue their association with the local schools and regularly plant flowers and trees with their pupils. On top of that, the group has good links with Halas Homes, whose community also gets involved in projects on the park.

Huntingtree Park was chosen as one of the five ‘Healthy hubs’ in Dudley borough’s Healthy Towns initiative; the Friends think that having a really active Friends group was crucial to Huntingtree Park being chosen. Being a ‘Healthy hub’ meant that the park benefited investment of staff and money that allowed the MUGA (multi-use games area), outdoor gym and other facilities to be developed and many healthy activities to run in and from the park’s activity centre.

The park also has a bowling green where people of different ages and abilities get together for a game. The green was previously managed and maintained by Dudley Council, with bowlers paying the Council for access. The Friends of Huntingtree Park has built relationships with the bowlers over the years, helping to purchase equipment and promoting the sport as something anyone can get involved in.

Late last year, the bowling green at Huntingtree Park came under threat due to public sector budget constraints. The Friends group entered into discussions with the local authority and the bowlers to explore how the green could be saved and maintained in the future. Everyone agreed that the Friends of Huntingtree Park could manage the green on lease from the local authority. At this point, the Friends recognised that it might be the right time to alter how the group was set up to get them on the right footing for taking on this extra responsibility. That’s when the group asked me for some support to think about how they could develop.

I met Alan, Lynda and Jane from the group and we talked about how it might work, what could go wrong and how the group could reduce that risk. We looked at budgets and the pros and cons of charity registration. We also discussed appropriate legal structures that might offer group members more protection when their liabilities increased. With some consideration, group members decided to set Friends of Huntingtree Park up as a CIO (charitable incorporated organisation), which would give them the benefits of charitable status and a corporate structure that would give them some protection.

The process involved developing a new constitution for the group; we did a fair amount of working getting the group’s charitable purposes (its reasons for existing) just right so that the Charity Commission would accept them. Once the constitution was ready, it was time to work on the application. I worked with Alan and Lynda on this and the application was submitted after a couple of meetings. We were really pleased when the Charity Commission confirmed a few weeks later that Friends of Huntingtree Park was now a CIO!

In the meantime, the Friends group and the bowlers were working together and with the Council to help a smooth transition. When the heads of terms for the lease came from the Council, the group was able to plan with real figures and it looked very positive! The group was able to pay a modest sum per year for the lease, engage a groundskeeper who would do routine maintenance. The bowlers agreed to transfer their subs from the Council to the Friends group to ensure that the green can be used for years to come.

FOHPAnd as Lynda walked us around the park earlier this week, it seems clear why this is working beautifully; it’s the relationships that the members of the Friends group have built with bowlers, residents, schools, park rangers, people from other groups. Everyone seemed to know each other and to have time for each other! It was lovely to meet Colin, a bowler who simply started teaching others to bowl a few years ago and hasn’t stopped since, building a social group that gets together for a game. I met Stuart, the Physical Activity Activator, who told us about his involvement in ShareFest! It was equally a treat to meet members of the social group who meet each Tuesday afternoon for an amble around the park, knitting (the results of which often go to babies born prematurely), coffee, cake and a chat. I was so happy to see the networks and friendships that had developed between everyone and this is something that only needs a few ingredients: open, caring people who want to share their skills and a place where they can do it!

 

A snapshot of our work supporting people, communities and organisations over the last year

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I’m really pleased to share the work that my colleagues and I have been doing over the past year in a our most recent annual report. So new, it’s not yet hot off the press, the 2015-16 annual report is a snapshot of the work we’ve done between April 2015 and March 2016 to support individuals, communities and organisations across Dudley borough.

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Dudley groups that got involved in Small Charity Week

Small Charity Week 2016I just wanted to say a big ‘THANK YOU!’ to everyone who got involved in Small Charity Week in Dudley borough and to highlight the organisations that joined in our conversations.

We had quite a few conversations online and some busy activities that I really hope were useful and stimulating for everyone that joined in.

 

 

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How far we’ve come with Brierley Hill Civic Hall

Col Civic

Since taking on Brierley Hill Civic we’ve found that everyone from local small groups to international music promoters are very excited in the work we’re doing to bring new life into this amazing building.

We took on on the Civic in February and we’ve had great support from the council, staff at the Civic, businesses and charities, all helping us in the early stages of this exciting journey. In March we kicked off with an open day to learn more about what the community, organisations, schools and businesses want from their Civic Hall.

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Lye & Wollescote Chapels Development

Lye chapel

 

 

 

 

 

Lye & Wollescote Chapels, Cemetery Road, Lye.

As many of you may be aware, Lye & Wollescote Chapels was the first building in Dudley borough to undergo the Asset Transfer journey. Since then there have been others and I am happy to report, more on the way and as and when they do happen, we will keep you posted.

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A call to everyone that wants to build a vibrant community hub at Brierley Hill Civic Hall

What great things could happen in this space? This photo was taken during the set up of our last AGM and Volunteer Awards

What great things could happen in this space? This photo was taken during the set up of our last AGM and Volunteer Awards

On Tuesday 3rd March, 2pm-4pm, we’ll be throwing open the doors of Brierley Hill Civic Hall to anyone who would like to help us bring this wonderful venue to life.

Whether you’re a resident, an artist, entertainer or promoter, or if you belong to a business, college, voluntary group or charity, you’re welcome to come along and see the Civic Hall’s potential for yourself. I’m really looking forward to meeting people who want to make great things happen at the Civic Hall, ask questions, tour the space and share their ideas and inspiration.

There’s so much potential for Brierley Hill Civic Hall to become home to many more groups and activities, particularly during the daytime. Since my last post, we’ve already had some great ideas ranging from socials for older people, vintage cinema events, linking with local businesses, and I want to thank everyone that’s shared their ideas so far. We want to encourage local talent to use the Civic Hall as a showcase venue for their skills; we want to make sure that the Civic reflects local heritage and is a vibrant community hub for everyone.

So please join us at Brierley Hill Civic Hall on Tuesday 3rd March, 2pm-4pm, to share your ideas over light refreshments.

If you can’t attend but would still like to share your ideas, please join in the conversations here by making a comment, on Twitter or on Facebook. Alternatively, you’re welcome to contact me on 01384 573381.

I’m looking forward to working with you.

Brierley Hill Civic Hall: Unlocking potential and creativity together

Dudley CVS will take on the running of Brierley Hill Civic Hall from next month in an arrangement that aims to make the venue an exciting hub and to make Brierley Hill a vibrant destination for entertainment and leisure.

More than just bricks and mortar; community assets are about the people and activities they attract. This photo is of Volunteer Award winners packed into the foyer of Brierley Hill Civic Hall.

More than just bricks and mortar; community assets are about the people and activities they attract. This photo is of Volunteer Award winners packed into the foyer of Brierley Hill Civic Hall.

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Our work gets recognised in high places!

Our work in partnership with the local authority to guide communities through the process of taking on, developing and managing buildings has been held up as an example to be replicated across the whole country in a national paper given to the CLG (Communities and Local Government) Select Committee earlier this week.

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