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Branch Out Community - Member in Focus #48 - Community Calling

Branch Out Community – Member in Focus #48

Interview with Pam Shaw from Branch Out Community Group

Tell us a bit about yourself and/or your organisation.

Branch Out Community Group has been set up as a voluntary community organisation. Our plan is to transform the derelict land that lies along Talbot Street, Newtownards into a Woodland Park and Community Garden. Our focus is on Community, health and wellbeing and education. The site will include a heritage fruit orchard, a vegetable plot, a cut flower garden and a large lawn suitable for picnics. The lawn will be surrounded by wildlife-friendly planting and a nature pond.

We will run charged craft classes, cooking classes, growing masterclasses and other events. Our volunteers will have the opportunity to join these classes free of charge or at cost price. This will allow the site to be financially sustainable whilst allowing everyone the opportunity to get involved.

We have been clearing the adjacent woodland plot which we intend to leave as an open site. We will be installing play equipment, wildlife habitats, fruit trees and bushes. We will also create some planters with a ‘Take what you need’ message attached. We hope that the local community will take ownership of this plot and consider it a great asset.

How well have you/your organisation adapted to the pandemic?

We began our work during the pandemic therefore we were aware of the need to social distance, minimise tool sharing and have hygiene practices in place. Given that our work happens outdoors and not in a close-contact situation, this has been relatively easy to manage.

How well have people/organisations in your area collaborated throughout the pandemic?
Collaboration has been the most difficult aspect of the pandemic. Many local groups closed down entirely and even online contact was extremely difficult. Newtownards has a limited number of Community/ voluntary information sources, as I discovered when attempting to use social media to reach out. Far better coordination is required between the groups and the Council if changes are going to happen.
What key needs are becoming apparent and/or are likely to arise this year?

Our group has had difficulty establishing a membership and becoming constituted due to our inability to call a public meeting. We have also had difficulty engaging with Council departments and relevant staff and there’s seems to be a lack of procedure in this area. Securing land for community organisations is standard procedure across the rest of the UK but it has not been used a great deal in Northern Ireland.

ASK: What do you need, right now, that the members of Community Network NI and/or the wider community may be able to help you with?
We need volunteers for several purposes. Our continued work in improving the woodland plot requires basic gardening skills and litter picking.
We also intend to build woodland play equipment so anyone with carpentry skills would be incredibly useful.
Also, we are trying to get community support for the larger project so having people willing to get petitions signed, even if it is limited to their own street, would help a great deal.
👋 If you would like to respond to this ask, please follow the link below and enter “BRANCH OUT” to the first field.

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