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Escape into Nature: Park Volunteering during Lockdown

During lockdown, the gardening volunteer programme was an essential lifeline for many. Take a look into the growth of the programme and everything it has accomplished in the last year.

Our Aims

Park volunteers have always played a significant role at Gunnersbury. Having volunteers enables us to do more planting, create new beds, maintain and enrich current plantings, and develop other areas of the park for the enjoyment of the members of the public.

 

Why is this important?

Volunteering in the park offers an opportunity to make a real difference. Lockdown brought many challenges for us, but we found that through our volunteering programme we could bring a positive impact to the lives of our volunteers – giving them the chance to safely connect with others and spend time outdoors, all of which is so vital to our wellbeing.

Volunteering throughout Lockdown

At the beginning of 2020 we had a small, dedicated group of community vegetable garden volunteers who met weekly. However, in March 2020 – like so much else – we had to suspend our volunteering programme, which resulted in a yard full of plants and a greenhouse with vegetable and annual flower seedlings that were ready to be planted out but no one to plant them.

Throughout the lockdown, we continued receiving emails from some of our volunteers who wanted to return as part of their allowed daily exercise. Some of them lived alone and for others volunteering helped with their mental health. In April we developed a safe system that allowed volunteers to return and help with planting which enabled us to focus on other areas of the park that otherwise would have been neglected.

As the lockdown eased, we invited the rest of the garden volunteers back for the weekly sessions. We were also delighted to be inundated with new volunteer applications and the gardening volunteering team grew rapidly.

To meet this new influx of volunteers we started two new volunteer groups: the Heritage Core Volunteer Group and the Nature Trail Volunteer Group.

Shaz collecting Aquilegia seeds to be sold in the Museum Shop.
Nature Trail Volunteers lifting turf for new planting in the Long Border Extension

Creation of New Volunteer Groups

To meet this new influx of volunteers we started two new volunteer groups: the Heritage Core Volunteer Group and the Nature Trail Volunteer Group.

The Heritage Core Volunteer Group are a small group of knowledgeable volunteers to whom we were able to give more demanding tasks – from working in the herbaceous and shrub borders around the heritage core to other tasks such as planting bulbs, weeding, mulching, deadheading etc.

The Nature Trail Volunteer Group work on Gunnersbury’s nature trail to improve the diversity of planting and enriched the habitat and food sources for the wildlife. After strategic bramble clearance, a new hedge was planted which enclosed the newly created meadow, new dead hedges were added, and a new bluebell area was created. In the glade new trees were planted and mulched.

All these volunteer groups have continued to dedicate their time and effort to us. In October, the Nature Trail and the Heritage Core volunteers helped us plant thousands of tulips, daffodils, alliums, and herbaceous material created by dividing already existing plants on other beds. Meanwhile in the Community Garden, they enjoyed a bountiful harvest in September including beetroots, beans, carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes, potatoes, and more.

Teaming up with External Volunteer Groups

We’ve also teamed up with external volunteer groups. In August 2020 we hosted a group from National Citizen Service Challenge, run by our neighbours Brentford Football Club Community Sports Trust. Over several weeks, they removed unwanted undergrowth under trees along the southern border of the park which improved safety and visibility in the area. They also created dead hedges to provide habitat for wildlife at the edge of the meadow. Throughout the year we also welcomed Good Gym who help us keep brambles in check and to restore the sight lines in the heritage parkland which were lost over years of neglect. Here is a link to one of their reports. GoodGym Hounslow - Bramble in the urban jungle! We were also delighted to be able to offer a work experience role to a student from the Ambitious About Autism College.

NCS challenge
‘Thank you again, this experience [of volunteering in the park] is certainly a highlight in Zubin's week. He gets stimulated so much by the activities and the contact with others in the community. It is such a valuable resource to us as a family and we wanted you to know we are very grateful to have the community garden and you to help us weekly’.
Volunteers working in the community garden
Rose Basket Beds

Welcoming back our volunteers 

By the end of 2020 our volunteer numbers had doubled from the beginning of the year and we were thinking of expanding the number of groups. Unfortunately, with another lockdown, we had to prioritise volunteer safety and cut numbers, though were still able to safely offer volunteering opportunities to those who needed it most.

Fast forward to Easter and with Covid levels dropping we were delighted to welcome back all our volunteers.


Looking forward

We are extremely grateful for all the helping hands at the park who have made such a difference at Gunnersbury Park. Our volunteers were able to benefit from the community and outdoor experience – providing a vital lifeline during such a difficult year. This year has shown that volunteering can really be a two-way exchange where both sides greatly benefit from the relationship. We hope to be able to continue growing these relationships and we are excited for the year ahead.

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