Friends Groups in Sandwell
Friends Groups are dedicated local people who work together to improve the appearance, facilities, and quality and value of a green space. This include Friends Groups for parks and gardens, amenity green spaces, play areas, nature reserves, and green corridors.
Friends Groups activities include:
- Leading walks, talks, events and activities.
- Fundraising for improvements in the green space.
- Championing and promoting the green space to the community.
- Helping to inform the improvements for the green space, including bigger funding and investment projects.
- Volunteering time and coordinating volunteer activity in maintaining and improving the green space.
- Practical tasks like litter picks, tree planting, weeding, and education visits.
Working in Partnership
Under delegated powers from the Green Spaces Strategy approved by Cabinet on 20th June 2022, the Cabinet Member for Leisure and Tourism (Green Spaces) has approved a new partnership agreement for Friends Groups to work with Sandwell Council, to focus our combined efforts on the improvement of green spaces. For further information:
- Read the Cabinet Member report on the consultation and draft partnership agreement.
- Read the Cabinet Member report on the approval of the partnership agreement, following consultation.
- Read the final and approved partnership agreement and ways of working.
Friends Groups Partnership Agreements
New Friends Groups will need to be registered with the Council and sign a partnership agreement with agreed ways of working. This way of working already exists in many other Councils and will mean better governance and more focussed support for Friends Groups.
Currently constituted Friends Groups will need to transition to the new partnership agreement over the coming months, with all Friends Groups having a signed partnership agreement from April 1st 2023.
Communications with Council Officers
The Green Spaces service is a team of dedicated and hard-working staff who are focussed on delivering improvements through the Green Spaces Strategy Implementation and Business Plan 22 – 25. With many Friends Groups already in Sandwell – and we would like to support and work with many more – effective communications will ensure our officers are able to support all Friends Groups and serve our Green Spaces in an equitable way.
To best do this, communications with Council Officers will usually only be possible in the following ways:
- Through quarterly meetings, with all Friends Groups invited. We are currently consulting on the make up of those meetings.
- Through the approval of an annual improvement plan at the start of each financial year (from April 2023), with the details of the proposed planned works to be undertaken by the Friends Group in the green space (including those works and activities that might require Council officer time, including the time of Green Services staff such as Park Gardeners).
- Through the available communication channels to the Council include:
- The report it function on my.sandwell.gov.uk or through the MySandwell App for repair issues, fly tipping, tree issues, or other green spaces issues.
- Through contacting customer services and raising a general enquiry for other issues not listed on the report it function.
- Through the Anti-Social Behaviour reporting line.
Friends Groups Support and Advice
- Through quarterly meetings, with all Friends Groups invited. We are currently finalising the make up of these meetings.
The majority of green space in Sandwell is managed by the Council, and as such Friends Groups must ensure:
- Plans for the improvement and development of the green space, including planting projects, installation of new equipment and furniture, or grounds maintenance works are done with the written permission of the Council’s Green Spaces service.
- Friends Groups are encouraged to fundraise for improvements to the green space. Investments into the green space will still need to be agreed with the Council, before monies are committed to this investment.
- The Council are made aware of activities that are to take place in the green space, and that written permission is given from the Council (through the events process or agreeing an annual programme of volunteer works for a green space).
Friends Groups recognised by the Council can use the green space for events free of charge, on the following conditions:
- The event is organised by and the responsibility of the Friends Group (and not through a 3rd party, via the Friends Group).
- The event goes through the Council’s event application process (which can be found here) and complies with the conditions of booking. Only events approved through this process can take place on Council owned land.
- The events purpose reflects the mission and objectives of the Friends Group: to improve and promote the green space (including education, talks, fundraising, community engagement).
- The event application must be submitted and approved before an event is promoted by the Friends Group.
- The event application fee is paid, which is for the processing of the application.
Friends Groups are not allowed to hire out green spaces, facilities, or green spaces buildings (such as pavilions, changing rooms, and band stands).
If a Friends Group intends to carry out practical tasks in a green space, then they will need Public Liability Insurance (to cover accidents to the public on site) and personal accident insurance (to cover volunteers working site). Insurance is not expensive, and many good deals are available. You can find more information The Conservation Volunteers.
Friends Groups Resources
- The National Federation of Parks and Green Spaces is an umbrella organisation supporting over 7,000 groups across the UK, and exists ‘to amplify the voices of Friends Groups across the UK’.
- The National Federation runs the Parks Community UK website which provides a ‘one-stop shop’ of information compiled by and for Friends Groups. This website aims to support Friends’ groups across the country to feel better equipped and more confident in their active involvement with their local green space.
- The Green Flag award scheme has a toolkit for the development of a Friends of Park Group.
- The Sandwell Council of Voluntary Organisations is a member led body that provides advice, support, resources, and funding opportunities to local voluntary organisations. There are many useful guides, training and resources available that would benefit Friends Groups including fundraising webinars and guides, how to write a funding application, project management and planning, and the workings of a voluntary organisation.
- Sandwell Council Green Space service have recently commissioned a scoping report of funding opportunities available to green space development and projects. This information will be shared as a resource once completed in November 2022.
- As part of the focussed approach to working with all Friends Groups, we work with partners to offer some training opportunities on fundraising, volunteer management, and developing green space improvement plans. Our consultation on the proposed Partnership Agreement includes telling us what training and support would be useful.
- The West Midlands Combined Authority are currently considering applications from community groups (including Friends Groups) to improve low quality green spaces in Sandwell, through their Community Green Grants programme. Funding is available for small projects (£3,000 - £25,000) and large projects (£25,000 - £100,000). Priority is given for those projects with the most impact in deprived areas with low quality green space. More information can be found on the information sheets here.
Key information on Community Green Grants:
Top tips on increasing biodiversity, support for groups on ways to include biodiversity in their project: Top-Tips-for-increasing-biodiversity-V1.3.pdf (heartofenglandcf.co.uk)
Green deprivation map, projects not within 300m of green space will be prioritised: Greenspace Viewer - Public (tfwm.org.uk)