Ethnic Communities and Involvement in Green Spaces
BEN Focus Group - Birmingham
Date Wednesday 15th January 2003
Venue Community Nursery, Balsall Heath
Facilitator Rachel Auckland
Scribe James Friel
Participants Balsall Heath Forum Environmental Task Force.
Tayear Mahmood Environmental Task Force Manager
Balsall Heath lies 2 miles south of Birmingham City Centre, an area which has become home to a succession of immigrant communities including Irish, Pakistani and the African-Caribbean.
Balsall Heath Forum was set up in the mid 1990s to address a number of local concerns about the area's decline. It acts as an umbrella for over 50 residents' groups, faith and voluntary organisations in the area.
A wide range of community activities has been initiated by the local communities under the Forum's banner, including a number of environmental projects. These have included an annual spring clean, parks improvement and new street furniture. The Environmental Task Force was set up to lead on this in Balsall Heath and inspire the local community. The Forum has also been a regional and national winner in the Urban Britain in Bloom and Britain in Bloom competitions.
The group consisted of staff and trainees from the forum's environmental and area maintenance team with varying degrees of knowledge. The questions were broadened both to look at their ideas as trainees and as members of the Balsall Heath community.
1) How many of you were interested in green spaces before we asked you to be involved in this focus group?
2) What is a green space?
Contributions came from the whole group. The ideas initially were space within their immediate area, but as they opened up so the countryside and other formal and informal spaces were referred to.
There was recognition that all these spaces have some impact on their lives and those of the communities in which they live both real and aspirational.
3) How have you used green spaces?
Green spaces are used more and more by the community as they see us cleaning up the area,
and we have talked to them about why we are doing it
The group felt that though there was a changing attitude towards green space in the local area, people were still not really making use of other green spaces elsewhere unless they were linked to a community event.
The group identified a number of ways that green space was being used. They were:
4) What would you like to see or do in green spaces?
People want to feel that it is safe to go in to the parks
We have organised football tournaments for the kids in Balsall Heath
We have planted flowers and trees on some of the bits of land nobody wanted. People asked us why and we told them. Now they are coming to us to ask if we can do the same for them
Here are some of the activities and aspects of green spaces which they would like to see:
5) If you have been involved in the care, improvement or creation of green spaces, please tell us about what you did.
I have all been involved in care, improvement and creation of green spaces. When I started people thought I was doing it as part of community service for doing some crime they thought I was a criminal. But after a while when they saw me out there regularly they started to ask me what I was doing and taking an interest.
Some examples of taking part in the care, improvement or creation of green spaces named by the group (As they are part of the Balsall Heath Forum's maintenance team the work was very focused on the local area as were the examples):
6 What puts you off using green spaces?
The biggest barrier was the feeling that no one cared about the parks and so they were not safe places to go. This is changing with the work we are doing and people are more interested
7) What puts you off getting involved in the care and improvement of green spaces?
People see this sort of work as not having high status. Digging and cleaning up after someone is the job of someone else
9) What would encourage you to get more involved?
10) Is there anything that you want to add?
Interest in the parks has been generated by what we have been doing residents have requested things to be done in their own area, or in their gardens
Park wardens and community wardens have made the place feel safer so people are coming out and using the park and green spaces.
People will get involved if someone has provided the starting point
The group showed a real enthusiasm for what they were doing, and there was feeling of pride in the comments and support that local people were showing in their work. Through their involvement with improving green spaces they had seen a change of attitude and feeling that people were recognising the benefits. However the work needs to be formally recognised by outside bodies such as the council and others, as much of the work should fall under their remit, and resources need to be made available for the work to continue and expand.