CROYDON IN CRISIS: The borough’s parks and open spaces have been a lifeline for many during lockdown, but they are now under a new threat as a result of council financial cuts, as ELLA HOPKINS reports
The Conservation Volunteers in Croydon, which has been running for more than 30 years, has seen record numbers of people flock to the borough’s parks, open spaces and woodlands during lockdown to help with projects since the start of the pandemic last year.
But Croydon’s bankrupt council’s funding freeze is making TCV’s vital work on biodiversity and public access tougher by the day. Even before spending cuts bite in the coming year, as a consequence of the £66million covid-shaped hole in the council’s current budget, TCV say that they never received 40 per cent of the funding they were supposed to get from Croydon Council in 2020.
The council is already implementing plans to cut staffing in its parks service by half. Now, by removing relatively modest grants to voluntary groups, there is a real risk that the borough’s public spaces will suffer decline and neglect.
“We’d already had a cut in funding from Croydon Council this financial year,” says Peter Underwood, who manges TCV in Croydon.
“That makes it trickier for us to keep going because there’s limited sources of funding we can go to. The fact that we got told in November that we weren’t getting any more funding from the council means that there’s a huge hole in my budget. It’s likely that The Conservation Volunteers in Croydon will make a loss for the first time since I started running it in 2014.
“In previous years we’ve tried to go out with work groups virtually every week of the year. I’m usually outdoors on one of the community spaces round here, three or four days a week. This year, though, we’ve had to cancel weeks because we’re not funded for them. That has the knock-on effect on Croydon’s parks and woodlands. If we’re not going out at all, we don’t get any income in.
“For this year, that puts us in a very bad position. That’s why we’re waiting to find out the situation will be next year – it’s crucial to us.
“It’s important that the council does their role in terms of looking after the parks and green spaces. One volunteer told me that the volunteers are the icing on the cake, not the cake.
“The council need to be doing the core work of emptying the bins and mowing the grass and then volunteers can do extra stuff,” Underwood says.
And the demands on Underwood’s organisation are greater than ever – with more people volunteering, looking for outlets in lockdown for exercise and to spend time in the great outdoors, coupled with growing public interest in environmental and ecology issues.
“During the first lockdown, we initially volunteered in groups of six so we could test out working practices and risk assessments to ensure we are working safely,” Underwood says. “The person limit has now been removed and following the first lockdown we’ve had lots of volunteers coming forward. Lots of people are newly appreciating their green spaces.
“The bulk of our work is on sites owned by Croydon Council, helping to improve their biodiversity. We work regularly on Happy Valley in Coulsdon and South Norwood Country Park. We were on Addington Hills between Christmas and New Year.
“Croydon is one of the greenest boroughs in London. But it has always had low usage. It’s great that during the pandemic so many people have discovered that we have these fantastic parks and woodlands and community gardens that a lot of people didn’t know about before.
“As people are appreciating their green spaces more, they are also willing to defend them and make sure they are looked after.
“We’re not only doing the work in green spaces, but providing a community service. It’s an opportunity for people to get involved and give something back to their local community. People come together as a group.
“While we’re a conservation organisation, our activities are as much about socialisation and getting out – getting some fresh air, exercise and being able to chat to people, especially this year where they’re staying indoors so much.
“Many of our volunteers are retired or live alone so for them coming out and volunteering was the only time they could come out and chat to somebody during the Christmas break.”
To find out more, visit TCV’s website by clicking here
Read more: Voluntary groups fear for existence as they face funding axe
Read more: Council survey on cuts tries to pass the buck to residents
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Thanks again for a good update. I make two observations
1) Official Croydon Council emails continue to apply the graphic “Delivering for Croydon” – it must be some kind of joke. No other organisation would be so stupid during a redundancy and budget cutting programme.
2) Is now the time to revise of the name of Croydon Council (or LBC)? A more accurate and informative name would be Croydon Statutory Authority (or CSA). Recognising the current administration as a council clearly implies a falsehood.
If the council pull funding in this way it will be volunteers more than ever that keep it together. What was already shabby is getting more so and it’s incumbent on everyone to help. Excuse my ignorance but where do you volunteer?
The link is at the bottom of the report.
But without any funding, many volunteer groups will find it impossible to continue at all: no public liability insurance, no managers to co-ordinate the work, no fuel for the mini-buses to transport work teams to their sites.
You should be able to find a local volunteer group from this selection:
Peter and his team do outstanding work, they recently done a fantastic job in Foxley Wood constructing a new path around the ancient beech tree and building benches. Just one of many tasks they have done around Croydon. Must be a sponsor out there somewhere who could help even with insurance and fuel as i think its going to be along time till Croydon get back on there feet.
Here here – Foxley Wood is the most fantastic local amenity lovingly maintained by a brilliant bunch of locals. Imagine if Croydon Council was run like Foxley Wood?
Mr Deacon, you are too modest. Speaking for the Friends, you have yourself contributed a huge amount to the recent and past work in Foxley Wood, both in time, your kit, and in your impressive woodland skills. When we really needed such to meet an unexpected challenge you and Roger stepped up and gave us two long days a week of your time for several weeks, starting and finishing in full dark, on top of your day jobs, to enable the remainder of that project to be completed on time. And I know you volunteer with multiple other groups in Croydon and Surrey.
It’s volunteers like you, and there are thousands upon thousands, who do so much ”unseen” work to help make and keep the parks and woodlands usable by so many others, including wildlife.
If anyone would like to see a photo album of the Foxley Wood project it is available here:- https://photos.app.goo.gl/mFdrNmn9F1zqqRN16
The 285 photos and videos are in strict chronological order [apart from the notices posted in the wood explaining the work, at the beginning]. If you click on the speech bubble with the figure 1 in it in the lower right corner of the first photo you will see the informative label with each photo as you go through the album. If instead you start the slideshow, which is about 5 seconds per frame, it has been timed it at 44 minutes, including the 45 videos at 10 to 60 seconds each. It is of course possible to scroll through the album as it appears on the page much faster than that, without the comments or videos. The album misses out all the prior work we did clearing Rhododendrons and later planting the area with a number of native species, which work is included in the ”match funding” contribution of volunteer hours which is a condition of the £11k grant. There are still another 44 trees yet to plant. And, as a subsequent separate project, we intend to remove the existing surfacing material under the tree and ameliorate the rooting area by mulching with biochar mixed with leafmould to improve the soil structure, relieving compaction and hopefully aiding defence against the decay fungi.
If anyone wishes to volunteer with us, once we are allowed to resume work, please see our contact details on our website :- http://www.friendsoffoxley.co.uk. We are none of us getting younger and really need new volunteers to take forward the work, and the knowledge, and the engagement with our local community. It is very rewarding, especially when we receive such glowing compliments as those given here by the likes of Messers Deacon and Tillinger, thank you.
For three or four decades, the growing support given by UK volunteer environmental groups has been a golden thread through the increasingly difficult / grim years of “Prudence” and “Austerity”, a long period in which the funds availble for parks departments has been cut and cut, to the very sad low point where we are now. .
If costed out in monetary terms, hundreds of thousands of hours by volunteers would have cost millions.
Of course, volunteers do this all for love, and for health, and companionship, to do their bit for the planet and future generations, and some will be able and happy to pay their own expenses needed to get to the work site under their own steam.
Others will need to be transported to the often remote rural locations, which as IC mentions, means minibuses and fuel.
The cost of vehicle and personal insurance is a key factor, as is the cost of tools, essential safety and protective clothing, and supplies like fencing materials. Some projects even involve grazing by livestock, which are looked after by a very small number of salaried professional staff aided by volunteers.
In my own part of Croydon, TCV and its volunteers have done an outstadingly brilliant job on restoring the rare chalk grassland habiats in Croydon’s Eco Jewel in the Crown, Happy Valley.
The Council must know the true value of all this work, and are happy to take due credit for owning and managing this half of the newly designated National Nature Reserve (the City of London do the same in respect of Farthing Downs, the other half, as IC readers will of course be aware).
In crude monetary terms, the return in terms of work achieved by the TCV volunteers, for a relatively small amount of money, is massive.
With Covid, the Parks and Countryside are a lifeline for millions of UK residents, which makes the value even more, as more residents are seeing and appreciating the restored areas. .
Plus, the health of the Nation is being boosted at this unheathily locked-down time, and we are all being kept well by walking and running, so often, in Council-owned parks and countryside. The NHS is spared a signifcant amount of money in treating people, as a result of the de-stressing and exercise experienced in just seconds, when people walk from the tarmac on to the grass of the parks, and into the meadows and woodlands, and smell the fresh air, and find themseves becoming calm and happy .
I really hope that the Council will realise the true value of the volunteer groups and the high value for money given.
Not just in the environment, but all the other many sectors where volunteers are working. Base funding needs to be sustained. The volunteers will do the rest.