Lockdown community engagement – picnic style!
Many of our sites have seen an increase in people visiting our estate during lockdown, and we know that for many this has been a way to improve their wellbeing during what is a difficult time for us all. At Smithills, a major aim of our project is to enable access to our estate for as many members of Bolton’s communities as possible – including demographics who might not necessarily be aware of the Woodland Trust, or have traditionally felt less welcome in the outdoors (this is a really interesting topic – but for another time!). There is a clear benefit to those visiting us in terms of health and wellbeing – but there’s a benefit to us, too, because increasing awareness of our woodlands will lead to more people valuing them, and joining us in the fight to protect them. We see that effect already at Smithills in the response to our task days, volunteering programme and mass engagement events. People from community groups all over Bolton join us to help care for Smithills, and they feel fiercely protective of it, too. This is a huge change from four years ago, and a positive one for the site.
Whilst our outdoor activities have been on hold, we know the importance of remaining in the conversations around community engagement across Bolton, and we have stayed in contact with other Bolton charities throughout. In June, we held a ‘virtual picnic’, creating an activity pack of nature-based activities and resources alongside Bolton Council, the Octagon Theatre, City of Sanctuary, Bolton Interfaith, and lots of the social enterprises based at Smithills. It was a way to connect Bolton’s communities whilst we are apart, and it was a lovely afternoon… but it was also a way to spread the word that we are here, and we found our follower count rising on social media. Even better is that the groups we worked with want to stay working with us to plan ongoing partnership events as lockdown eases – giving us a chance to work with more community groups, to share resources, and to introduce more of Bolton’s residents to the fantastic outdoor space we have at Smithills. Hopefully these will be the people helping us to protect this landscape for decades to come!
Vicky Entwistle – Engaging Communities Manager, Smithills