By Sarah Bingham, Community Organiser
Through listenings carried out in the first year of organising in Rawmarsh and Parkgate, I began to find out what was important to people living there, what issues were affecting them and what change they wanted to see where they lived. It became apparent that a lot of the residents I spoke to were passionate about the area’s green spaces and that there were concerns some of them were under threat, in particular, council-owned Green Hill in Parkgate.
Green Hill was under multiple threats: excavation, arson, ASB and fly-tipping/ littering. The people I listened to were passionate about the area and the wildlife that lived there and were worried that the threats facing the area were going to have a significant (if not irreversible) effect on the wildlife there. So much so, the residents living in the area surrounding Green Hill had started a petition against the proposed exploratory works. As an organiser, I tried to get people together for a community meeting to talk about possible solutions and future action to protect the green space. However, I found out a lot of people weren’t at the stage in organising where they were ready for a community meeting, so I carried on listening to residents and to ask what ideas they had for potential action.
The community decided that they needed to raise awareness of Green Hill and the issues it faced in order to gain the support to take action. I began working with a team of twelve volunteer residents (including our now volunteer community organiser Rob) who were willing to plan a community event on the green space. Through listening and talking to the volunteers about ideas for the event, it was decided the group would hold a Christmas-themed lantern walk on Green Hill.
The group of twelve began to plan a project that would engage with the community of Rawmarsh and Parkgate and raise awareness of Green Hill, working alongside local charity Rawmarsh and Parkgate Friends of Green Spaces. The project consisted of two free lantern-making workshops at local community hub The High Street Centre, a community litter pick at the site and Christmas-themed lantern walk on Green Hill. Both the workshops and litter pick were really well attended. The lantern walk itself exceed expectations, attracting over 80 local people. The petition was signed by an additional 40 people, and the group created an information pack about the hill and efforts to save it, which was taken by all those who came.
With awareness starting to be raised and interest in the green space rising amongst the residents of Rawmarsh and Parkgate, the group decided to hold a second community event, an Easter Eggstravaganza! Again, the event was the end of a community engagement project consisting of two free workshops where attendees could make decorations for the event and a site litter pick in partnership with Rawmarsh and Parkgate Friends of Green Spaces. The event attracted even more community members than the lantern walk, with around 150 people coming on the day. A lot of the attendees spoke about how beautiful the space was and the fact they had never heard of it before the group started holding events there. The group also embedded community organising techniques into the Easter project, carrying out listenings throughout the project and over 35 on the day of the event.
Following the Easter Eggstravaganza, the group decided it was time to start taking direct action in protecting the space. The group thought the best course of action was to ask local charity Rawmarsh and Parkgate Friends of Green Spaces if they could work as a sub-group of them as their aims were similar. Rather than dilute the efforts of green activists in the area, they thought it would be better for the community if everyone with the same aims worked together. Community leader Rob put forward the idea of a series of conservation projects to help protect the space as well as encouraging more wildlife to the area.
The series starts with smaller projects (low budget, short time period) and ends in more complex projects which will need funding and people-power. The first project in the series is a community engagement and education project to install bird and bat boxes in the woodlands of Green Hill. The project was proposed to Rawmarsh and Parkgate Friends of Green Spaces and the group was enthusiastic for it to go ahead, so much so they proposed that the group extend the project to two further sites in Rawmarsh and Parkgate. This will entail community engagement and education working with three local schools, the scouts and other community groups.
Before any project could go ahead, the group needed to get the OK from the council. They were apprehensive about whether RMBC would support any conservation work in the area due to ownership and the threat of excavation in 2018. However, myself and volunteer community organiser Rob emailed the councils green spaces to enquire about the possibility of installing bird and boxes, and to our surprise Donna at the department said she ‘would support anything that encourages wildlife’ on Green Hill. The group were elated. If birds and bats inhabit the boxes, it gives an extra layer of protection to the woodlands of Green Hill as it is illegal under UK law to damage or destroy bat roosts. By engaging and involving the community in the conservation projects in the area, the group hope the people of Rawmarsh and Parkgate will become as passionate as they are about protecting and celebrating this beloved green space.