Roots for the Future’s activities and impact in our first year
Here is a general account of Roots for the Future’s activities in our first year of operation and how they have benefited the communities we have worked in.
With the support of Surrey County Council, we held our first workshop to pilot our idea of bringing people together to plant trees in their communities. This workshop was held on Birtley House Estate where Surrey Hills Enterprises CIC is based. The Forestry Commission had put us in touch with the CIC when we were looking for land to hold our pilot on. In the Birtley woodland we gave local Brownies and Rainbows the opportunity to engage in forest school games, led by a qualified forest school leader, followed by planting their own trees which we had bought from the Woodland Trust. The feedback we received from the participants, both children and adults, was invaluable for developing our workshops and we were able to use footage and photography to market ourselves to future stakeholders.
The success of the pilot led to our engaging with Godalming town council and Waverley borough council to hold planting events in two areas of social housing in Godalming. With the help of a councillor who held a seat on the county, borough and town councils, we submitted an application proposing the town council support us with funding to reach two areas of social housing that had a history of anti-social behaviour.
There are several aims to our community workshops. Primarily we bring together neighbours, friends and families to make a positive difference to their environment through tree planting. Tree planting is a simple yet effective way to tackle environmental problems such as poor air quality and flooding, both of which affect communities in Godalming. Secondly we believe that gathering people in this way contributes to social cohesion and that tree planting strengthens communities. When people plant trees together, relationships grow alongside the trees. Studies show that trees cut crime and anti-social behaviour. Furthermore, we focus on children and young people through educational and forest school elements of the workshop with the vision that we will inspire the next generation to live more harmoniously with nature. We welcome all ages and encourage younger participants to partner with older participants so that their skills and abilities are complemented. We ensure our workshops are intergenerational.
The workshop at Ockford Ridge and Aaron’s Hill, and the workshop at Northbourne were huge successes. Both had a good turn out with a diversity of ages getting their hands dirty with us. We invited the ward councillors to attend and work with the community on making the improvements to the green spaces through tree planting. Their attendance provided them with the opportunity to get to know their constituents better in an informal space. Several councillors came along as well as the Town Mayor. At both locations, community groups were consulted and where possible we chose together the location, layout and tree type.
Our continued conversations with participants indicate we have been successful in our aims of engaging the community in environmentalism, tackling issues such as poor air quality and flooding through tree planting, contributing to social cohesion through collective action, educating and inspiring children about the issues and solutions to climate change, getting people active outside in the fresh air and off their devices, and contributing to the reduction of anti-social behaviour.
Public event on private land
To celebrate Earth Day and one year since we started Roots for the Future, we held a public planting event on private land. This was a partnership between the landowners, local tree surgery equipment suppliers Honey Brothers and Roots for the Future. Using postcode lottery funding that was matched with public donations for taking part, we held a forest school workshop followed by tree planting. The trees were specially selected to reduce an issue of bogginess and were planted parallel to a busy commuter train line which in years to come will provide a noise barrier. It was an informal celebration of, not only our birthday, but Earth Day. Earth Day 2017 promoted environmental and climate literacy and so the outdoor learning leader highlighted through exploration and games how trees and plants are the fundamental basis of all life.
Wider community benefits
The workshops act as a call to action to enable people to do something positive together that benefits their community, as well as for the good of humanity. Tree planting has multiple benefits to those who take part and to the wider community. Trees are amazing, not only do they provide us with the oxygen we breathe and absorb and store the carbon emitted from vehicles and industrial activity, they also mitigate other climate change related issues such as flooding because water sinks into soil under trees at 70 times the rate it sinks under grass. Trees absorb pollution and filter particulates out of the air by trapping them on their leaves and bark, helping to improve air quality.
Trees provide communities with many social benefits. Green spaces make us feel better and more resilient to stress. Studies show that when people are recovering in hospital, if they can see a tree outside their window, they get better more quickly than those who can’t. And it is reported that trees cut crime and anti-social activity.
With a world urbanising fast, and most of us now living in cities rather than in rural places, it is inevitable that green space will be increasingly occupied by development. Tree planting is an important part of development, not only for all the reasons laid out above, but also because as the temperatures rise each summer, we need trees to cool our towns and cities. Trees shade our offices, homes, car parks and streets by breaking up the heat traps generated by concrete and by releasing water vapour into the air through their leaves.
We reached out to the community to raise our profile at as many community events as possible. We held stalls at festivals such as Godalming’s Staycation and Birtley House’s Wood Fest to spread the word about our activities and plans for the future. We held a community fundraising event at our local and popular pub. The pub quiz raised vital funds for our start-up costs.
We were chosen as a lucky beneficiary of the sale of one of the cows in Surrey Cow Parade thanks to our corporate friends and sponsors Van Arnhem Nursery. A local artist was commissioned to design the fiberglass cow. The Cow Parade is the world’s largest public art event, and rounds up the support of celebrities and community groups to raise money for local community projects and enterprise schemes. The Surrey Cow Parade aims to share the beauty of the Surrey Hills and provide a boost to local businesses and community projects. The auctioning of our cow has provided us with vital unrestricted funding which we will use to increase our reach, and the social media opportunities that went with the events were a great way for us to grow our audience.
We used our first year to reach out to and network with many individuals from relevant institutions in our community. This included our county, borough and town councils and the officers and councillors who work for them. We built corporate social responsibility links with local businesses through our fundraising activities, establishing relationships which are mutually beneficial. We held many meetings with employees of non-profit organisations to scope out collaborations, some of which are coming into fruition in our second year of operation. We also built links with schools to scope out planting opportunities that can complement the school curriculum.
Using a mixture of offline and online communications, we raised awareness of our activities and how to get involved. We used local press, including a county wide newspaper and more local newspapers, to celebrate our achievements and to invite people to get involved. We built our online presence through a mixture of social media accounts and communicating to our audiences through our website and blog. We made two videos showcasing our work and used crowdfunding to raise money and spread the word that we needed our community’s support to build our organisation.
We held four planting events which directly engaged a total of around 150 people in planting around 200 trees in our first year of operation. Those 150 people have been enabled to do something positive together that benefits their community, as well as for the good of humanity. Those positively affected indirectly by the tree planting are hard to count but for all the reasons laid out in “Wider community benefits” we believe the effects are far-reaching.
Consultation with Stakeholders
Here is an account of who our stakeholders are, how they have been consulted and what action we have taken in response to these consultations.
Our engagement with stakeholders has been at a mostly hyper-local level and the following have been engaged through a mixture of one to one meetings, email outreach and phone conversations. Our preference where possible is for one to one meetings where we convey our mission and vision more easily, and gain valuable feedback from the stakeholder how best to engage target participants to reach our goals.
- Their councillors
- Their officers
The town council advised us on location and how to engage our target audience of people living in areas of social housing. The council also funded two workshops in areas of social housing and so ward councillors were invited to participate and advised us as we organised the events.
- Their councillors
- Their officers
The borough council advised us on planting locations and specifically, the tree officer advised on areas with the most need for trees and the community development officer advised areas of the most need for social cohesion. Borough councillors were invited to participate and advised us as we organised the events.
- Their councillors
- Their officers
The county council provided us with vital start-up funds and the county councillor who gave us councillor allocation funds was central to our outreach to town and borough councils. The country side manager advised us on who we could collaborate with to reach our goals.
We engaged with multiple local small and medium sized companies to build corporate social responsibility relationships. Their participation with us and advice led to funding opportunities, land to plant on and marketing opportunities.
In the very early days of scoping out Roots for the Future’s viability, the Forestry Commission’s local partnerships advisor gave us advice on how to build and grow our business. One of the woodland officers linked us with the landowners of the location of our first planting event.
In order to reach neighbourhood residents, community groups representatives advised us and helped us to promote our events. They also advised us on the best location for planting the trees and in some cases what types of trees would get the most enthusiasm from participants.
We worked with Brownies, Rainbows, community action groups and community centres – all helped us to reach our audiences, gave us feedback on the workshops, and advised us on engagement.
Participants are always keen to give us verbal feedback at the end of the workshops and we formalise their feedback by asking them to fill in forms so we could learn what went well and ways we could improve our offer.
We provided employment opportunities to freelance outdoor learning leaders. Together we would design the child-focused element of the workshop and after each session we would discuss what went well and ways we can improve.
Due to some anti-social behaviour issues in one of the areas of social housing we worked on, we contacted the local police to get their advice and to see if they would pass by during the workshop in case we came up against anything that would prevent us from reaching our goals of community engagement.
Through our social media and online presence we are always open to suggestions from the public on where to plant and who we can engage. We believe our planting benefits the wider community living in and around the areas we plant in. We also believe that our tree planting activities benefit the national and global community because at a micro-level we contribute to national and global sustainability targets. We believe community activities, like Roots for the Future’s, are at the root of curbing the global issue of climate change.