Here’s an overview of the breakout sessions looking at meaningful community participation and empowerment in our woods which took place yesterday. In total there were two break out sessions on Thursday covering the subject area. Having a different set of people at each session allowed the subject to be looked at from different angles and pursue the title in a slightly different way. Both sessions were introduced by Jenny Archard (Freelance facilitator and outdoor learning practitioner, Devon) and an introductory talk was given by Alison Millward – Urban wildlife consultant.
The first group was very much dominated by Neroche conservation volunteers describing their experiences and their views on the development of their volunteer role during their time as a volunteer. Many recognized the need for space to develop their role within a project; starting out as a worker with little or no responsibilities, but recognizing that as involvement becomes deeper, there is a feeling of wanting to become more involved with the management of the group, but always with the backup and support of paid staff. The volunteers expressed the vital ingredients of knowing about the outcomes of their work and investing in the future of groups by involving younger people.
The group also looked at the need for ‘professionals’ or ‘paid workers’ to become skilled up in how to work with volunteers. People management skills are key, and knowing what volunteers are expecting and are looking for in their work. In this way, it can be seen to be less of ‘controlling’ the volunteers, and more looking to the supporting and managing of a group and guiding it towards more independence.
The second group was looking further in to the idea of sustainability of a group; recognizing the need for clear objectives, and taking a pragmatic rather than fundamentalist approach. There was a recognition of the need for real community empowerment, and how being able to focus on a particular local site helped with community involvement. Rosemary Viant who was one of the original members of the Neroche Local Stakeholders group talked and answered questions about the development of her role from initially being involved by giving an opinion on behalf of the local community, to the development of The Blackdown Hills Trust. Her role has changed to being far more involved with the development of the cattle project, and being directly involved in writing funding bids, and looking towards future projects through the charity.
– Jilly (Volunteer Coordinator)