Ria: Can you tell us what inspired the Clarion Housing Community Garden Event?
Sam: We held a Green Communities summit in July with customers and stakeholders from the housing sector. One of the key findings was the importance of resident engagement and how vital it is to engage the community early on green space projects.  How we must consider green placemaking and biodiversity enhancement holistically, considering customer aspirations, inclusivity, accessibility, health & safety and ongoing maintenance, all in tandem when we’re designing these spaces.
Taking the learnings of the summit, Ground Control collaborated with Clarion in the delivery of this Community Garden project.  It was built on the concept of drawing down on funds we had set up for Clarion to be used for environmental gains – environmental projects that saw the opportunity to make green spaces work for residents and the environment.
The labor came from our staff giving up their time as part of our Ground Control community initiative program which dedicated two days a year for colleagues to put forward to such projects.  The impact to Clarion was zero financially, but a really great valued project as an outcome and although a small project, it was an important pilot from that fund.
Lesley Rolling Clarion Housing Services Manager (East Midlands): “Wow one small thing makes a huge difference. It looks amazing. Thank you everyone very much for all of your efforts and hard work”.
Ria: What did the event involve?
Sam: The event took place in Milton Keynes, identified by Ground Control and Clarion as a housing scheme with underutilised outdoor space that could best benefit from enhancements to increase biodiversity, enhanced amenity value, and encourage greater use of outdoor spaces.
We engaged with residents for a day in September to take their feedback on what they might want to see. Public votes were taken on a range of improvements including, increased communal seating, more flowering shrubs, wildflower borders, edible herb borders, ornamental grasses, fruit trees, bird boxes and lawn enhancements. This voting was also followed up by Clarion with an email survey to ensure the widest possible stakeholder group could be included in the decision-making process.
The results of the vote – in tandem with inclusivity, accessibility, health & safety and ongoing maintenance considerations – informed the final community garden scheme.   The design benefitted greatly from the diverse feedback as each resident had their own vision for the underutilised communal area. The overall consensus, however, was that residents wanted to include something visually appealing and colourful that would attract more wildlife to their garden space.
With all materials donated by Ground Control works were able to commence swiftly in October half term. On the day Ground Control volunteers were joined by local residents, including many aspiring young gardeners from the community.
Between us, we planted trees, installed bird boxes in, created new wildflower seed areas,  planted flowering shrubs that would generate areas for pollinators to come into the gardens in spring, along with various different bulbs and a seating area so that residents could sit and enjoy it when it’s complete and comes into full effect in the spring next year.
Ria: How was it seeing the younger residents engaging with the natural environment?
Sam: It was great to see, and the reason we opted for October half term was to get the younger generation involved. The climate crisis is huge and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. But even the smallest plot of land can make a big difference! By involving young residents we’re helping spread the word that although the environmental problems we face are enormous there are solutions, and it is better to do one small thing than nothing at all. The younger generation is the key to unlocking that.
We had children and their parents from the community come out to help, and it was wonderful to see their level of interaction and inquisitiveness. They were present for the duration of the event, got their hands dirty, and, from what I understand, are now thoroughly enjoying the use of the space.
Our child volunteer said: “I really liked planting the seeds the best, I had lots of fun and like playing outside in the garden now too, it’s much prettier”.
Her parent has added: “She was very proud of her work, even took us down to see what she had been up to. The garden looks lovely, much more appropriate for the children to go and play in and a nice bench for us parents to have a chat”.
Ria: We’ve recently seen the public reaction to COP26 which had a real focus on what the impact of climate change is going to have on the younger generations and a real focus from those younger generations on the importance on the environment, green spaces and biodiversity. Ground Control does a fair bit with school programmes, and awareness already – can you tell us a bit more on that?
Sam:  We do a lot because it’s a key area of focus, whether it’s with schools, resident community groups, youth groups or commercial organisations with outreach programmes, we always try to get involved with those younger participants and make sure that they completely understand the importance as we push the agenda around carbon capture, biodiversity gain, and environmental enhancements.
Ria: What kind of satisfaction levels do you think the residents got from the day?
Sam: The entire community absolutely loved the project itself, and some of the testimonials and feedback we’re receiving from customers clearly show that they are thoroughly enjoying the space. I know that some of the Clarion officers who patrol the areas have returned frequently to ensure that the area is still in good condition and that the residents are happy. It’s a positive outcome all round.
Ground Control is doing a lot of work with the housing sector to raise awareness about the importance of green spaces. It’s the vital link between community wellbeing and green open space, which all residents and the community can enjoy.
In addition to community events designed to raise awareness and engagement, it’s also equally as important to ensure that green spaces are cared for through an appropriate grounds maintenance regime. That’s why we’re thrilled to report, in a recent Grounds Maintenance survey 100% of Clarion customers were ‘satisfied’ with a gratifying 70% of residents scoring our service top marks.
The Community Garden event was the first in a series of green gains initiatives, more are now in the pipeline to help Clarion Housing enhance green assets and ensure green spaces work for residents and the environment.
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