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Goodwill towards outdoor spaces brings in new faces at Dean Castle Country Park

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Logo: Dean Castle Country Park

By Laura McMeekin

Beginning a socially distanced Action Earth Volunteer Matter Project (East Ayrshire Leisure)
Beginning a socially distanced Action Earth Volunteer Matter Project (East Ayrshire Leisure)

Dean Castle Country Park in Kilmarnock, is located in the west of Scotland and managed by East Ayrshire Leisure. The formal volunteer programme was founded in 2016, when HLF’s Parks for People project funded a volunteering coordinator for the first time. Prior to 2016 the Country Park occasionally recruited for one day events – such as litter picking or tree planting and relied heavily on local uniformed organisations to fulfil these tasks. The formal volunteer programme focused on establishing a Friends Of group, Volunteer Biodiversity Surveyors and training volunteers in traditional rural skills. A key focus for recruitment was to engage local people from areas of Multiple Deprivation which surround the Country Park.

Planting raised beds (East Ayrshire Leisure)
Planting raised beds (East Ayrshire Leisure)

During the first wave of the pandemic, all formal volunteering stopped. However, the Country Park was busier than ever as local people used the facility for their daily exercise and turned to our social media page on Facebook for up to date information on closures. There was a large amount of goodwill directed towards the Park. The outdoor space and link to nature that it provided our communities with was a lifeline during lockdown. As lockdown easing was implemented, a new recruitment drive targeting our Facebook users was implemented. This attracted a new demographic of people who hadn’t thought about countryside volunteering before, but wanted to ‘give something back’ to the Country Park.

Rebuilding a drystone wall (East Ayrshire Leisure)
Rebuilding a drystone wall (East Ayrshire Leisure)

Ordinarily, recruitment for Friends Group volunteers was very informal. Poster, and media campaigns encouraged new volunteers to come along to the next session, where they could fill in an application if they wished to join the Friends Group. Friends’ sessions were always run as a drop in. It was clear that COVID safety measures would require a limit to the number of volunteers attending and a method for Track and Trace if a case was to occur. Potential new members were encouraged to get in touch via phone or email, with an informal discussion held over the phone to assess their needs and reasons for volunteering as well as their suitability for the role. Recruitment now required volunteers to book in for Friends activities, provide contact details in advance, as well as sign off on COVID Risk Assessments. It is assumed that this method of recruitment will continue for the pandemic’s duration. Time was taken to make sure that our volunteer role descriptions were up to date, so that potential volunteers were aware of what was expected of them as a Friend of the Dean. All new volunteers now receive health and safety guidance, a volunteer role description and an application form as the primary stage of the recruitment process.

Logo: East Ayrshire Leisure

Going forward, the Country Park will look to capitalise on changes to volunteering that have taken place during the pandemic. A Volunteer Scotland survey found that while most formal volunteering in Scotland stopped, overall participation in volunteering increased during the first lockdown by 26%. However, only 13% of those surveyed were taking part in volunteering related to managing outdoor spaces, as most volunteering was in direct response to the effects of the pandemic. The survey also predicts that after the pandemic is over, more people will want to continue to volunteer, particularly those aged 16-24 and this is where the opportunities for the Country Park lie. Staff intend to involve secondary schools directly via volunteer placements for Duke of Edinburgh awards, foster close contacts with our local volunteer centre and Volunteer Scotland, who will pass new volunteers to us and to target university and college departments directly. Reporting on the achievements of our volunteers via our social media encourages further new recruits and will be a focus for the future. Recruitment will also take place on East Ayrshire Leisure’s website, with a volunteer section expanded for the whole organisation, which covers outdoor leisure, sport, heritage and culture. If you are interested in volunteering at Dean Castle Country Park, you can get involved here

Link to Volunteer Scotland Pandemic Research.

First published in CJS Focus on Volunteering in association with National Federation of Parks and Green Spaces with Parks Community UK on 22 February 2021. Read the full issue here

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Posted On: 30/01/2021

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