Community park gives opportunities for all

15th April 2019

Imagine achieving your dream of going to university and achieving a first class honours degree, only to then be unable to find a job.

This is not an isolated issue in Cumbria. However, thanks to a community park in Ulverston, social inclusion is at the heart of the learning and volunteering opportunities made available.

Ford Park, an eight-acre community park  in the heart of Ulverston, provides recreational facilities and a wide range of community based projects, activities and events. It’s a community initiative, with truly inclusive volunteering including those who feel socially isolated, have additional needs or are from vulnerable groups.

Matthew has volunteered at Ford Park since he finished university. He said: “I am profoundly deaf and communicate through British Sign Language. I’ve been unable to find paid work even though I have a first class honours degree. Ford Park makes me feel useful and wanted. The staff have given me lots of encouragement and given me more confidence with hearing people.”

Ford Park Community Group provides inclusive volunteering opportunities, supporting a whole variety of people from across South Lakeland and the Furness Peninsula. More than £57,000 worth of grants have been awarded via Cumbria Community Foundation since 2006.

In 2017, Ford Park received £50,000 from the Fresh Ideas Fund to convert part of its walled kitchen garden so it could grow and sell herbaceous plants, heritage vegetable plants and winter potted bulbs. The funding also helped towards developing the Coach House Cafe’s small shop, which sold heritage and child friendly seeds and provides activity sheets to promote family friendly gardening.

The grant was also used to evaluate community views, experience and opinions of the Park to help diversify what it has to offer and attract more community involvement.

Some of the volunteers have health issues and additional needs and may have had a negative experience of formal education or employment.

Jill Salmon, Chief Executive Officer, said: “For some of our volunteers there is limited support for them and having somewhere they can come and work two days a week is a huge part of their lives.

“Being involved in the project has helped to build their confidence and they feel welcomed as part of a group. Volunteers feel healthier physically and are more inclined to engage in further physical activity.”

One volunteer who suffered ill health said: “When I come through the gates of Ford Park I leave my anxiety behind. I have returned to work since my accident but volunteering helps me to maintain my mental health.”

The project has also helped increase employability, and some of the volunteers have gone on into paid employment.

Jill said: “The grant enabled the initial development, purchase of stock and training for volunteers and an apprentice. The nursery is now at a stage where plants are being propagated from our own stock for sale, volunteers are trained and competent, the apprentice is now in a long term paid position and visitors have come to know the nursery as part of Ford Park’s offer. The outlook is for a long-term, sustainable addition to the park that provides an income stream to the organisation and further opportunities for volunteers within the community.”

Ford Park is a true community initiative, it was originally funded by the West Cumbria and Furness Key Fund. In 2006 it was awarded for £4,800 to employ a Project Development Manager to co-ordinate talks with stakeholders and potential partners in the development of the site. Later on in 2014 a grant was given to help towards equipment for its Wild Flower Meadow project to bring older and younger people to address disadvantage and stereotyping and get them out and about in nature. Ford Park continues its success in being the heart of a community.