22 August, 2018

Community help to restore green space

At the back of the Vibe (a YST centre in Coney Hill, Gloucester) lies a reasonably sized plot of land which, until recently looked a lot like an inhospitable, abandoned forest, full of brambles and weeds.


We knew the site had once been used as a working space, but it had been long since abandoned.

We all know that being in nature even for short periods of time can improve our health and sense of wellbeing yet much of our work at YST tends to take place indoors. Gemma Smith, one of our case responsible officers based at the Vibe, wanted to change this and shared a vision for the space with colleagues.

Meanwhile, volunteer staff and young people from Echoes #2 (a community youth group based in the Vibe) were having the same conversations, wanting to transform the space into something that young people from the local community could utilise and enjoy. Claire Long, PCSO and volunteer at Echoes #2, told how the club had applied for a Gloucester Lottery Grant and had successfully received £1000 to help transform the land into something useable which is when she found out that Gemma also wanted to do something with the space. Claire told us,

We’re working together to try and bring our ideas to life and to get the space to a state where we can work with it".

I’ve been wanting it to happen for a long time, we need more project opportunities that we can offer to young people to become involved in.” said Gemma.

Ideas for the land so far include, a small vegetable plot, raised beds, a sensory garden, a communal outdoor space and a water feature to act as a memorial for lost family and friends.

Youth workers and young people decided to start clearing the site, but it quickly became obvious that industrial tools were needed as well as more people power. So, Gemma set about enlisting help from local community groups and organisations.

On a dry but overcast morning in the middle of August over 20 people showed up at the Vibe with lots of tools and equipment and much enthusiasm, including young people willing to get stuck in with preparing and providing volunteers with refreshments and a lovely lunch.

The other organisations involved on the day were from GE Aviation, Green Square Group and staff and young people from Echoes #2 youth group who quickly organised themselves into strimmer’s, chippers, shredders, rakers, litter pickers and general helpers.

We managed to catch a couple of the volunteers during breaks to find out what motivated them to get involved.

GE Aviation (GEA) is a world leading provider of commercial, military, business and general aviation jet and turboprop engines and components as well as avionics, electrical power and mechanical systems for aircraft. They have a large presence in Gloucestershire with facilities at Bishop’s Cleeve and own Doughty Propellers. One of their key values is corporate social responsibility and Jan O’Hara, Strategic Initiatives Leader at GEA, told us:

We’re very keen as an organisation and as individuals to give back to the community. We strongly encourage volunteering and community support activity and we, as an organisation, try and do at least a couple of volunteering events each year. This one here at the Vibe is probably the biggest one we’ve done so far in terms of number of volunteers and scale of the job”

GEA also helped source and pay for the industrial equipment used on the day, without which the job was unviable.

Jan also volunteers with the YST as a Referral Panel Volunteer and can see that this project could help provide opportunities for young people on Reparation Orders as it’s often difficult to find opportunities for them.

Also helping on the day were colleagues from the Green Square Group. Green Square are a major provider of housing regeneration, care and support and commercial services across Gloucestershire, delivering services in Gloucester, the Forest of Dean and Tewkesbury. James Aldridge from Green Square said about their involvement,

We’re part of the community involvement team, so the idea is our clients can get involved with their communities – social groups, walking groups, cooking groups – and we’re hoping that we can bring some of our clients here in the future to help out with the plans here so we’re definitely hoping to stay involved”.

Other community groups who’ll be involved as the project progresses are Fair Shares and Dig Deep Gloucester.

Meanwhile in the purpose built catering kitchen in the Vibe, Kate Soo, YST Case Responsible Officer was working with a young person on providing a tasty lunch for the hard-working volunteers.

They had planned a full menu with two options of mains and were cooking two curries from scratch. I caught up with Jacob later in the afternoon, to ask him about the experience of cooking from scratch and catering for so many.

It was kinda nerve racking worrying about what they were gonna think, whether they’d like it. Now it’s over I’m proud for me and the lady that helped me cook – it was real team work – I’ve never cooked like this before and I might try it at home now.”

The YST try, where possible, to match young people’s interests and needs to the activities they get involved in to maximise their potential and success. Reflecting more on his experience, Jacob said,

It’s a good place to come and it’s been taking my mind off other things…. finding a focus on something positive instead of negative. I’d now feel more positively about helping others”.

The day was a huge success and an excellent example of partnership working to benefit a local community. Claire Long, volunteer at Echoes #2, is also a PCSO working in the community who said,

We’ve (the club) been open for a year in September and when we recently checked the crime stats in the area, there’s been a 28.4% decrease in anti-social behaviour. So young people’s involvement is proving to be successful”.

There’s still a lot of work to be done to help the vision become a reality but it’s amazing what can be achieved with enough will, people power and enthusiasm. Well done and thanks to everyone involved.