Love Springwater Park – Action Plan

Aim: To create a themed action plan for the Love Springwater Park community group. This would need to contain a range of project ideas which can be implemented by the group in the short, long and medium term and focussed upon maintaining and improving Springwater Park for the benefit of all.

Date: February – March 2021

Client: Love Springwater Park Community Group (I am a member of this group)

Principles: Mollison and Slay

Framework: GOBREDIM

Tools: Needs / Expectations Analysis, Ethics Analysis, PASTE, Principles Analysis, Guilds Analysis, Holistic Decision Making, Client Interview, Shared Ideas Form, Action Plan, What If…? Activity, Maintenance Plan, PNI Tool, Evaluation Survey, Elements Analysis, Word Sift.

How does the design reflect the Permaculture Ethics?

People CareInvolving a local community in decision making around a public greenspace.

Preserving a local greenspace as a peaceful and beautiful place for the community to enjoy.
Earth CareWorking to maintain and improve the nature and biodiversity on a public site

Exploring how best to protect a delicate urban / wild / natural space.
Fair ShareMaking a park become more accessible whilst also protecting nature.

Nature and outdoor space contributing to wider social change.

How does the design meet my personal learning objectives?

Permaculture design as underlying foundation to the work that I do.– Using Permaculture methods to design a project within a real world context.

– Application of Permaculture design within a real context related to my professional practice particularly in terms of community engagement.

– Structured application within the context and timeline of a wider project.
Build links to the Permaculture community.– Sharing process and documentation via social media and design group.
Develop learning within the structure of the diploma.– Exploring ways to develop a design as part of a collaborative process.

Resources / Support

  • Various websites detailing similar projects
  • From What Is To What If by Rob Hopkins
  • Diploma Guild
  • Design Forum
  • Love Springwater Park Volunteers
  • Countryside Officer – Bury Council
  • Knowledge Base – Permaculture Association
  • I-Naturalist
  • Wordsift

Context

Love Springwater Park is a community group I am involved with, which was founded in September 2017. This is the second design that I have done for the group as part of my diploma – the first design can be found here.

We are a group made up of people from Whitefield in Greater Manchester who are dedicated to maintaining and improving Springwater Park for the benefit of local communities and the environment. The park is around 120 acres of green space located at the convergence of the River Irwell and River Roch in Bury. It was formerly an industrial site housing three factories, but now belongs to Bury Council and comprises of riverside meadow / floodplain surrounded by lodges and woodland. Part of the site was also historically a municipal tip.

The meadow area of the park is a natural floodplain and it suffered serious flooding during the storms in December 2015, which also flooded many homes in neighbouring communities. Since then the riverbank, which had become very steeply carved as result of high levels of rainfall, has become seriously eroded and a large area of the riverside meadow has been lost. In 2018 the group were informed that the park may become part of a borough wide flood-remediation scheme being developed by the Environment Agency. In 2019 this work was confirmed and provisional plans were drawn up with work due to start in Spring 2020. Unfortunately due to the pandemic the work was unable to start but in January 2021 the project finally began, with view to it being completed in April.

The prospect of this large project taking place meant that much of our work as a volunteer group had to be put on hold. The work starting meant that there was finally light at the end of the tunnel and that it was possible for us to start coming up with longer term plans again for our group and our park.

This design focuses upon the collaborative creation of an Action Plan for the group moving beyond the completion of the Environment Agency works. It was developed in my capacity as member of the group, and used GOBREDIM as a framework.

Image showing the extent of bank erosion on the River Irwell looking north west.
Image showing the extent of erosion on the River Irwell looking south east. The tree that can be seen of this image was lost to the river a couple of days after this picture was taken.

Goal

The aim of the design was to create a project action plan for the Love Springwater Park community group. This will contain a range of project ideas which can be implemented by the group in the short, long and medium term and which focus upon maintaining and improving Springwater Park for the benefit of all.

This action plan would be created through a planning meeting which would take place on Zoom and which would be open to anybody who is actively involved in our group.

Observation

To begin thinking about the design I created a Needs and Expectations analysis thinking about what the action plan needed to do and what we might expect the plan to be.

NeedsExpectations
To create themes which help the group focus on the direction that we would like to take.

To create a list of projects for the group.

To set down some workable ideas for the group.

To create some bigger ideas.

To think about a mixture of short, long and medium term plans.

To agree volunteers to take forward each theme, and set some tasks and dates for them to work towards.

To reflect multiple voices and ideas
We will come up with some ideas that we can get going with!

We will be able to share our own ideas.

Our plan will improve the park.

Our plan will be a fun thing to be involved with.

Some of our ideas will be able to happen right away.

A number of comments were also made about the meeting by group members which are noted below and which were useful pointers in the design:

“It’s going to be a difficult meeting to organise efficiently on Zoom; I can foresee a lot of sidetracks and folks just enjoying the pleasure of chatting.”

“I think the best outcome from the meeting would be four or five broad directions that members want the Park to take, rather than specific projects, though we’d discuss projects in the context of the directions. I think we are missing a plan for the future at present.”

“We will need some form of vote so that all get their views noted.”

Finally I used the Permaculture Ethics to further focus thinking around the things that we hoped the design would achieve.

Next I created a PASTE Analysis for the site. I drew up an initial analysis that was shared with the rest of the group so that they could make additions.

Finally I checked entries on the I-Naturalist entry for the park which incredibly noted that as of 28th May 2021 147 different species had been logged / observed within the park. You can explore observations for the park here. A screenshot of the site is included below.

Boundaries and Resources

I used Mollison and Slay’s Permaculture Principles to explore the possible Boundaries and Resources in relation to the design.

BOUNDARIESRESOURCES
Relative location– Site places limitations upon what can go where and upon what events are possible.

– How may neighbours feel about certain projects / events?
– Generally the park has supportive and enthusiastic neighbours and is part of a great community.

– It is not a pristine site which means we can be quite creative about the plans that we make.
Each element performs many functions– It would be a challenge to give function to some of the existing elements.

– How can the group balance conflicting needs / uses / aspirations for the park?
– Diverse uses of the park means many elements are already multi-functional.

– Our volunteer group brings huge diversity of skill and knowledge.
Each function is supported by many elements– The park is used in many different ways so as a volunteer group we need to decide where our focus lies, and not spread ourselves too thin.

– Currently some functions are quite anti-social – how can we ensure that these are supported by less elements?
– There are already many fuctions which are well supported within the park.

– The elements within the park could also potentially easily support many of the other projects that we may want to develop.
Efficient energy planning– As a volunteer group there is a limit to the time and energy that we are able to commit.

– The park is big with lots of potential – it would take huge amounts of time and energy to do everything that we would like to do!
– There is alot of energy and enthusiasm within our group – better planning will help us to make the best use of this that we can.

– Lots of other people are very enthusiastic about the park – how can we encourage them to become more involved?
Using biological resources– The park is a big space and includes a wide range of environments – there is a limit to the impact that a volunteer group can have within space of this size.

– There are serious infestations of Himalayan Balsam, Japanese Knotweed and Giant Hogweed.

– Areas of the land are still polluted as a result of historical uses.

– Two rivers flow through the site and it is a floodplain.
– The site is diverse and interesting in terms of habitat and nature – these aspects bring great interest and potential.

– There are lots of natural resources on site which can be utilised for use within projects that the volunteer group would like to develop.
Cycling of energy– How is it best to maintain the interest of volunteers and to encourage new volunteers to get involved?

– Some people are not positive about the improvements that the volunteers make to the park and this negativity can be challenging.
– The volunteers are enthusiastic and passionate about the park – how can we best plan so that we harness that energy?

– How can existing enthusiasm be used to drive more ambitious plans and projects?
Small scale intensive systems– The park is big and some aspects are managed with larger scale focus by the landowner (Bury Council)

– Some of the more significant challenges on site such as giant hogweed are a challenge to tackle in a small scale way.
– It works well for the group to tackle things in smaller steps – espescially for bigger challenges like invasive plants.

– Small scale developments are easier for the group to manage and can have a real impact upon how people feel about the park.
Accelerating succession and evolution– How can we best continue to recruit new volunteers to get involved? – The core group is a great group but it would be nice if more people got involved.

– How to develop the group beyond day to day maintenance to think about the bigger picture and things that they would REALLY like to see in the park.
– The group has the energy and enthusiasm to create a programme of work that will grow and develop as the park itself develops.

– The group is part of the local community and thus committed to developing a plan of works that will develop and grow in the long term as part of a wider context.
Diversity, including guilds– How to encourage more people to get involved so that a wider diversity of park users is represented in the volunteer group.

– Hard to create a plan which reflects the diversity of park users – lots of people use the park in different ways.
– The group has a wide range of skills and interests which really adds to what projects are possible.

– The group is open and welcoming and committed to being accessible to all.
Edge effects– Maintaining momentum of large projects like woodland management or invasive plant removal can make it hard to think about more marginal aspects / possibilities.– The group has wide interests which stretch in many different directions – the plan will help to ensure that more unusual or niche interests are better reflected.

Evaluation

Most of this element of the design was undertaken collaboratively by members of the group. The majority of thinking took place within a structured group meeting which happened on Zoom, with research and idea gathering done prior to this.

Initially a date was agreed for the meeting and participants were invited to take part in Shared Ideas Gathering:

  1. Share ideas of projects that they found inspiring which may be relevant to our park.
  2. Share ideas that they would like to discuss at the meeting.

All of this was collated and shared on a webpage which participants could freely access. This page can be explored here. In answer to the second question people largely shared ideas of projects that they would like to see develop in the park. These are listed on the previously mentioned webpage and loosely catergorised into four groups:

  • Biodiveristy.
  • People and Community.
  • Projects.
  • Partners / Supporters.

Any other feedback or comments that were made were also shared on the webpage.

The week prior to our meeting a simple Client Survey was sent out to participants asking them to respond to three questions as detailed by Rob Hopkins in his brilliant book From What Is to What If. The questions were orignated by artist and community activist Gabriella Gomez-Mont who used a similar format in a community project she delivered in Mexico City.

The questions were:

  1. What three words come to mind when you think about Springwater Park?
  2. What three things do you value most?
  3. How do you imagine the future of the park?

The survey was sent to our core group which comprises of 20 people. In total 17 members of that group responded. The answers to these questions were shared as a starting point in our meeting and are shared below.

Here are the words that came to mind when people thought about the park. The larger the word the more frequently it was mentioned.

These are the words the represent the three things that people value most in the park:

And these are the things that people mentioned when they thought about their vision for the park in the future:

Finally the full answers to all the third question can be explored in the gallery below:

The next activity that we did together was to answer the question “What if..” to think about things that we would love to see happen in our park in the future. The responses to this activity are detailed below.

Decisions

We worked in small groups to look at thie different activities and ideas that had been shared so far, and to see if they could be gathered together into any obvious themes. The idea was that these themes may help guide the work themes that we would like to pursue as a group going forward. The activity was very similar to a Guilds Analysis but took a more general thematic approach. These discussions are summarised below:

This activity was followed by a Group Discussion to focus thinking where we agreed the following as a group:

  • Nature should be the overarching focus for everything that we do.
  • The work themes will be: Maintenance and Work Parties, People and Community, Nature and Biodiversity, Projects, Partners.
  • We would like the park to become a local nature reserve so the work that we do will work towards fulfilling the criteria to do that.
  • How will our work look if for each project or activity we ask : how does this benefit and support nature in the park?

After this we convened a second meeting. At this meeting we used the themes that we had agreed upon to think in more detail about projects that we would like to focus upon within each theme. Once again a simple Client Survey was used before the meeting. This time it invited group members to put forward three different projects that they would like to see developed under each of the themes that we had identified.

The slides below illustrate the main focus of the ideas of projects that were shared for each theme. These slides were also shared at the second meeting as a starting point for discussion.

I also created and shared slides which detailed the projects that people had said they would like to focus upon. These are shared below.

It was reassuring to see that there was a good degree of consensus on the projects that we would like to focus on going forward. We went on from this to have an open discussion within the meeting about which projects could be implemented now, which would need more planning, and which may need to be a long term ambition. Finally we talked about the structures that we would like for the group going forward in terms of how we would meet, and how we would plan and develop projects.

All of this was pulled together to create the basis of the action plan for the group.

Implementation

I used Simple Holistic Decision Making Tools to outline how the themes that had been indentified by the group were reflected by the wider identity of the group – how the themes reflect the spirit and sense of the things that we want to achieve within the park.

A simple Action Plan was created as a result of the meetings. This includes:

  • An outline of the group’s structure and purpose.
  • An outline of how the group works.
  • An outline of the projects that we would like to think about in the year ahead.

You can download the full plan below.

Maintenance

The plan that has been created will be maintained by the group in a number of ways:

  • The themes will form the basis of our regular planning meetings which take place each month. This will mean that we keep revisiting them which will help ensure that they remain active and relevant.
  • The meetings will allow us to observe if the themes are still relevant and if they still reflect the structure and aspirations of our group.
  • If the themes are no longer relevant as our group grows and develops we will revisit our thinking process to explore where gaps lie and therefore what needs to be added and taken away.
  • The action plan will also be used as a reference point going forwards, and to form the basis of documents such as funding bids.
  • The group will begin using the action plan and thinking from the meeting with immediate action.

Design Evaluation

I also created a survey for people who were involved in the design as participants and gathered feedback using a Google Form. Overwhelmingly the feedback was positive with particular focus on the way the meetings were well structured and the way that everybody was able to take part and have their voice heard. It was noted by several people that Zoom meetings are not ideal for everybody, but that they were a good solution in the context when it was not possible to meet in person. The full responses can be read in the galleries below:

I used the PNI Tool to evalute the design, and also to reflect upon it.

EvaluationReflection
Positive:

– The aim as outlined was to create an action plan including a range of projects that could be implemented in the short, medium and long term was fulfilled. The plan does not include specific detail about the timeline for the different projects but it was verbally acknowledged by the group that some would involve much more input in terms of planning and development than others. The plan also includes clarification of which projects could be done straight away, which are more medium term, and which would need significant planning.



– The final plan that was created feels like it sprung from a collaborative process and that it is collectively owned by the group.


– Becoming a Local Nature Reserve emerged as a clear dream for the group and we have already made significant steps towards achieving that – if we are able to do this it will be great news for our park!

– The plan is now being used by the group and is serving as a good starting point to focus our energy and attention.
– The use of a design process worked really well here to add focus and structure to a process which needed to reflect multiple voices. The structure ensured that all voices were heard.

– The GOBREDIM framework felt that it moved forward in rapid paces adding momentum to the conception and development of the plan.

– The structure of the design process and the tools that I used created a clear connection between myself and the rest of the group. By using the process it was possible to create an agreed direction of travel and also to agree upon a destination that we were working towards.

– It was great to use the Ethics early on in the design as a tool to hone the aim of the design. It felt like a really powerful way to gain a sense of purpose whilst also ensuring a strong connection to the place that was the focus of project.

– I loved using the Word Sift tool within this design. It was a really visual way of sharing ideas and ensuring that everybody’s voice was heard and valued. The group also commented how much they valued seeing information being presented in this way.

– The PASTE analysis worked well as a way to make a simple site analysis in a collaborative way with the group.

Negative
– I had originally hoped that we could get through all the business that we needed to within one meeting but this proved impossible and we needed two meetings instead. This was not a big deal for our group but would be worth factoring in if undertaking this kind of process with other groups in the future.

– Due to Covid-19 the meetings had to take place on Zoom. This means that the process was not as accessible as may have been desirable. I tried to deisgn in elements so that people’s voices could be heard even if they were unable to join the Zoom meetings but clearly this experience of contribution is much less dynamic than taking part in person.

– We had a month between the first meeting and second meeting. In reality we would have probably been better served to have the two meetings much closer together so that the thinking from the first meeting was still fresh.
Interesting:

– I really loved creating this design and feel excited by the fact that the model that has been created could easily be used with other groups with little or no modification.

– We did not come up with a more structured action plan as the feeling was that anything too rigid would be off putting to our volunteers. However, it was agreed that members of the group should have the freedom to pick up projects and run with them based upon their own personal interests providing the project fell within our overall remit of protecting and preserving nature within the park
– The first session when we came up with concepts and themes was much easier than the second meeting when we focussed more on projects and actions. If I repeated this process I would think of new tools and activities to use within the second meeting to make that aspect of the design more dynamic and productive.

– I enjoyed using the principles to explore the possible boundaries and resources for the project. It was a point in the design where they fitted well – it gave them a great sense of purpose. It’s so interesting to move principles around and use in different ways to keep them live and active and this was certainly one of the more successful uses!

– Before each meeting I gathered certain information by asking questions that were answered using a Google Form. Thinking and sharing in this way does not work for everybody so I also made sure that I provided other ways for people to share their ideas. Overall gathering information before the meeting worked really well and was a very positive way of getting the ball rolling when we came together.

Reflection

I used an Element’s Analysis to reflect upon the design from a personal perspective.

EarthConnectionI really enjoyed creating something related to an active and live project. This connection gave a fantastic sense of rootedness to the design that was created, which in turn gave a sense of purpose to the process and design from my perspective as a designer.

This design was created whilst major works were being done by the Environment Agency in the park. This would mean major changes in the park, and significant disruption. There was a real sense that the process of this design gave our group the chance to look beyond this period of change to look forwards, and to take ownership of plans that we would like to develop in the future.

I really loved working to create this design. It was fantastic to see how Permaculture tools can be used in contexts of community decision making like this one. It made it really clear how they can be really powerful tools for decision making, and from my perspective as a designer it is someting I would like to explore more.
WaterFlowThe way the design developed felt really natural – things fell into place and the progression felt organic and reflective of the way we like to work as a group. Within this context I felt more confidence to shape the process so that it reflected the direction and pace of travel.

The design came together with a great sense of purpose and energy. I feel that this happened as a result of clear and real parameters that were facilitated by the design process.

Structure helped participants engage and it also encouraged the flow of ideas. Together these things gave a sense that everybody who was involved had an equal voice which is really important in this kind of community project.

I felt the way that the meetings and sharing of ideas was structured allowed for good interaction between myself as designer and the wider group – again something which I feel is really important in this type of project. I would love to see how this relationship could be further explored in other designs.
AirEnergyReally loved this design – great to work which such an enthusiastic and energetic group, and to see how this energy fed back into the design. The energy or working closely with other people is a great thing which I really felt here and which is something that I would like to try and include in more of my designs going forward.

The design really demonstrates to me what a powerful tool Permaculture Design can be to create a shared vision. Following my experience of this design I can see how the ethics could be a great starting point for any project involving a group making decisions.
Sun and ShadeContrastIn this design the final action plan was not quite as detailed as I may have hoped for it to be. However, I acknowledge that it is always important to accept the difference between what you want to achieve and what is achieved – especially for this kind of project where you are working with a diverse group who have a range of opinions and ambitions. The question for me around this is do you set “realistic” objectives that you know you will achieve OR do you try to be ambitious then shift things around to suit where you get to? My feeling is that the second approach is a more exciting and fruitful one to pursue!
Elevation / AspectDirectionI loved using these tools in a community setting found them to be a really inspiring and empowering foundation to empower shared decision making. Thie type of application of Permaculture is something I would love to explore further in the future.

I am really interested to explore how can other groups could benefit from the learning from this design? The format that has been created is one that could easily be used by others.

When using Permaculture Design in this context I feel that it is best used to create a frame for thinking but ultimately group must shape direction – design can help give clarity to direction of travel and the destination that you are heading for but the final decisions must always lie in the hands of the people that are taking part.
WildUnexpectedWorking online for this was surprisingly satisfying and productive! I was very nervous about how limiting it may be but I feel that it actually opened the space to more people.