I was lead volunteer for Project SOS. I started volunteering at the farm because I felt inspired by the friendly community atmosphere and it is close to where I live. I met other volunteers keen to learn more about environmental issues and start making simple changes to their lifestyles. The farm were also keen to host a project about going green, so that is how Project SOS began! I loved the variety of ways to be involved at the farm, there seems to be something for everyone of all ages and experiences.
The SOS project focused on going ‘green in the city’ by taking a positive, manageable approach to exploring new ideas and learning new skills. The project was designed to encourage and support local people to explore and discover ways in which to be more ‘green’. That might include making their home more energy efficient, thinking about where their food comes from or learning how to mend their clothes or give furniture new life, rather than buying new. We wanted to make sure that getting involved in the project is easy and manageable. Its about taking things at your own pace, being inspired and having fun at the same time!
Jules and I led a consultation with volunteers and local people on what kind of SOS workshops they would like to do to. People had loads of ideas, which helped us to plan the programme of workshops. Cake and tea always helps to get the ideas rolling in!
We invited The Schumacher Institute to host a series of workshops at the farm. The Institute describes itself as an independent ‘think and do’ tank based in Bristol. They ran a series of research projects and programmes including ‘Prepare for Change’.
Prepare for change
The aim of this project is to look at complex global issues from a ‘systems thinking’ perspective. This means looking at how different issues faced by society are interconnected. For example, riots that have taken place in cities across the world in recent years might be attributed to a wide range of societal problems such as poverty, high unemployment, poor schools, poor healthcare, housing inadequacy, high crime.
The group talked about the impact of social unrest on a city like Bristol, looked back at the history of riots in Bristol and came away feeling energised by discussions on routes forward. Everyone agreed that it felt positive to be talking about the issues that concerned them, sharing experiences, finding ways to make sense of changes happening and to make a contribution to future change. This was a fantastic experience to discuss theories and models in community development and it really helped us to review and reflect on our Active Citizen Projects.
What happened next?
We went on to cascade our feedback and findings to support development of the community programme and workshops. We also identified the need to feed into the ongoing volunteer development programme and to widen our approach to engage a wide range of people in the business community, exploring the opportunity for corporate social responsibility with businesses, we went on training courses delivered by Voscur to update ourselves on current practice and talked with other organisations who had developed a corporate volunteer programme.
Working on a variety of Active Citizens projects at Windmill Hill City farm, it became clear that the farm could really benefit from bringing in a new type of volunteer. Corporate volunteers, people that work for companies in and around Bristol with an active Corporate Social Responsibility programme, are a great resource for the farm. The farm can offer interesting outdoor project challenges to the corporate groups that take them out of their comfort zone.
These volunteers often spend their working days confined to an office and can’t wait to get their hands dirty and bond with their colleagues in a completely different setting. Sometimes they are also able to make a donation to the farm to pay for the materials and co-ordination of the project they become involved with. An enjoyable day spent at the farm, gaining an understanding of how it works and the value it offers to the local community, leads some volunteers to want to build a longer-term relationship with the farm or volunteer on a more regular basis.
Over the past few months we have been developing a clear set of policies and procedures for setting up a corporate volunteer day here at the City Farm. This includes a Volunteer Pack for prospective volunteers, checklists for project coordinators at the farm and also for the corporate groups to follow.
This ensures that everyone is working to a manageable timetable and no area of the day is forgotten (from what to bring and what to expect, to risk assessment templates and catering information). Prior to the event, we will stipulate that the corporate group coordinator does a site visit at the farm and meets their farm contact to break the ice and find out more about how the day will work. The day includes an introduction to the farm, health and safety talk and regular breaks for refreshments and lunch. We encourage the volunteers to embrace the farm ethos and pitch in with any jobs that need doing, including clearing up after themselves. It’s a busy working farm not a corporate networking event! We will also help them with risk assessments and gather feedback at the end of the day.
The momentum for engaging with corporate volunteer projects we learnt through consultation is the beginning of the year in order to arrange projects from spring time, when people are more likely to engage in potential projects due to the warmer weather. When we developed the corporate programme at the farm there had been little experience of running a corporate programme and we hope that the development work we have started will give the farm scope to have regular corporate groups at the farm every week and this is what the farm will be working towards.
Corporate volunteers are often local people themselves. They have families and friends in the area and they talk about the fantastic experience they have had and what a great resource the City Farm is. This can lead to the volunteers engaging with the farm on an individual basis outside of their corporate day job. For example, when we talk about the new People Grow project with our corporate volunteers, they are excited about new ways to be involved with the farm. Their workplace volunteer day acts an introduction to all the events and activities the farm has to offer to different members of their family and friendship groups. We will keep in touch with the corporate groups through newsletters and updates about new projects and opportunities as they emerge, keeping the farm on their minds when they are developing new elements of their corporate social responsibility programmes.
We worked with over 50 volunteers and participants on this project and we would like to say a big thank you for all your ideas, energy and work in developing this project. A special thank you to Helen Gunn, volunteer lead on this project.
Jules Allen, Active Citizens Coordinator