We decided to create an Age-friendly Neighbourhoods Toolkit after learning that small changes make a huge difference to quality of life for older people. Whilst creating the toolkit we interviewed a variety of older people from communities across Bristol about their experiences of developing their neighbourhoods. You can read about Martin's experience below.
When I moved to Bedminster Down, I was so glad to have the stunning Manor Woods Valley Local Nature Reserve on my doorstep. I know that green spaces are valuable resources that need to be looked after by those who benefit from them, and so I volunteered to join the local conservation group. Our work has gone from strength to strength over the years, and we’re always planning new ways to make improvements, such as uncovering a hidden orchard, building new paths, planting wildflowers and coppicing. An incredible thing about working on projects in green spaces is what’s good for wildlife is also good for residents – our beautiful wildflower meadow has attracted far more pollinators to the area, and creating dead hedges in the woodland is a really satisfying and straightforward task for volunteers to get involved in, which creates a shelter for birds and mammals and ideal habitat for insects. We have also partnered with Forest of Avon Trust, who run wellbeing courses here for people who are recovering from mental health issues.
I’m now the chair of the recentlyrenamed Manor Woods Valley Group – we’re a constituted voluntary organisation with a treasurer, secretary, ecological adviser, planning advisor and website manager. This allows us to do more fundraising and have more of an influence on local planning decisions. We advertise through the local paper, in the community noticeboard at the local Coop and the community arts centre, where we hold open meetings. I don’t believe this is crucial for new groups, though – you can start really small, by just creating a poster suggesting a short ‘work party’ for residents, and things will grow organically.
I was by no means an expert in horticulture and conservation before I started volunteering, but I’ve learned so much that I can now enrich others’ experience of the area. We regularly hold litter picks, and they’re effective at not only making an instant difference to the look of the place, but in reducing daily littering. There’s a well-proven theory that people are less considerate of their environment where there’s clear evidence that others don’t respect it, so it’s great to know that people can see that this is an area that is looked after.
That’s not to say that we’ve not had any trouble with antisocial behaviour – once, one of our noticeboards was vandalised by a young person from the local school, and by contacting the school we were able to convince the perpetrator to own up. In discussion with the school and the community police officer, he agreed to a community resolution; he apologised in person to our group, explained why he did it, contributed some of his pocket money to the repairs and agreed to do some community volunteering. It’s important to identify the root cause of problematic behaviour, rather than being defeatist about it – so often, it’s a way of somebody communicating that they don’t feel heard in their community.