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Green Spaces Issue

Informal learning and pathways to employment

Guidance Paper No.12

Green spaces are settings that can purposefully offer a range of opportunities to encourage and enable informal learning leading to lifelong interests, a return to education or aspiration to work towards a career.

Interpretation and associated activities

Lively interpretation can stimulate new interests, especially if they are designed to link into a range of activities that build on the themes raised. Interpretation can be seen as a dynamic element of the space, not necessarily a permanent expensive high quality feature. During a visit to Australia I came across nature reserves in which there were numbered weather-proof boxes for different areas, with attractive cheaply produced information sheets on plants, wildlife, plant history or local history. A facility like this allows you to change interpretation themes, when appropriate in consultation with community groups. e.g. for Black History Month. It also allows people to take something away. The information sheet will work for you in the community.

Ways forward

Purposefully stimulate new interests through dynamic interpretation

Consult communities to identify themes and work with them

Link interpretation to activities to develop interests

Guided walks, talks, training

Guided walks and talks directly connects you with members of the community. Work with local groups to develop themes. As more people become interested, get volunteers from different communities trained up to do guided walks and talks in different languages.

Organising a programme, media work, photographing and documenting activities, evaluating outcomes - there is a whole raft of skills for which training can be provided to build people's capacity to contribute. There are funders specifically interested in strengthening communities and the voluntary sector. Be integrational in your approach. Benefit members of ethnic groups and other disadvantaged groups alongside each other.

Ways forward

Research local community groups who can work with you

Train new volunteers

Build the capacity of ethnic groups to make a full contribution

Local knowledge and skills

Unlock the dormant knowledge and skills with ethnic community groups. Many groups hail from the countryside of their countries of origin and come from communities that use plants in everyday life and for medicine. Many of them have knowledge and practical skills in cultivation and care of the natural environment, which they can share with the mainstream community.

Research local ecologists, archaelogists or wildlife enthusiasts to work with you. Walks and talks and take people beyond your green space, but create a deepened interest in what is there in your space. Go to zoos, local nature reserves, museums, or urban studies centres.

Again, spot the bright sparks. We all have an overwhelming workload. Once people are interested, purposefully let them take over and do the organising for you!

Ways forward

Unlock knowledge and skills within ethnic communities

Research other local people and organisations that can work with you

Consider a programme with elements beyond your space


As you work with individuals and community groups, let them know what it is that you need help with. Volunteering is still a formal sounding work. Closer to the community it is basically about a sense of the willingness and joy of helping each other out. For example, see your green space as a meeting place where people can sit and talk outdoors.pending... good weather! Isn't it much nicer for a mother's group to be able to sit on the grass or benches to share information than in a meeting room? You may make the effort of letting them come in and make tea to take out. These are the small actions that build up a relationship and set the context for you to ask them to do things for you.

Many members of ethnic communities do not have the experienced of focussed volunteering activities and there is a need to introduce how these work. Organisations such as BTCV or Groundwork will be happy to work with you to introduce what they do to the community groups you are in touch with.

Ways forward

Build up a give and take relationship with the local community

Work with others to increase different forms of volunteering in and beyond your space

Reward volunteers and involve local organisations and businesses

Organise activities and events to reward those who work with you. Thank them and give them credit and status. The Country Parks in Hong Kong give volunteers who give substantial time uniforms, badges, beautifully designed T-shirts.

Get local businesses or organisations to sponsor events, barbecues or picnics, e.g. you local Wildlife Trust may wish to use the occasion to get their messages across. Get a local personality, your MP, your local bank or business to present certificates or badges. They want to build relationships with the local communities too.

Ways forward

Engage local businesses, organisation, politicians and personalities

Give concrete recognition to work done and knowledge and skills gained

Linking into community education and lifelong learning

Lifelong learning and community education is a priority at the moment. Research local institutes and see if some of your activities will bring them new students for evening classes or other courses. Inform your community on your community information board.

Local educational institutes may be interested in linking into your activities and the community groups you are working with in order to expand what they have to offer to their students. Hammersmith and West London College was so inspired by the range of environmental activities undertaken by ethnic communities that it decided to stimulate activities within the college around sustainability. The real life experience alongside academic activity put their students into a different league. The rate of acceptance into further education and university was so significantly enhanced that they have now put into place a full time co-ordinator for this aspect of student life.

Ways forward

Link with local educational institutions

Opening up opportunities for employment

Ethnic communities are known to go into a relatively narrow band of employment. The lack of role models within small communities and the subsequent lack of knowledge of the wide range of careers available means that often, environmental careers are not on their agenda.

At the moment there is a real lack of gardening and horticultural skills within the green space sector. Make this and other employment opportunities known. Allow interested youngsters to shadow your employees. Refer people to other organisations that are willing to do the same.

Any emerging interest in knowledge and skills is a basis for a return to education and the consideration of a range of employment. It may start from the work you do in your green space and end up anywhere. Opening out opportunities is about not having a narrow view.

Ways forward

Introduce the employment opportunities available

Be explicit about how the activities you run link into employment possibilities

Work with local educational institutions to promote knowledge about educational opportunities and the qualifications needed for particular jobs

Offer experiences such as job shadowing

Download Guidance Paper 12

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