The Garvagh Development Trust are using their People and Community grant to run Garvagh Forest and its People, which supports local people to connect with one another and their environment.
Karin Eyben from the Garvagh Development Trust explains; “People have lived and shaped this piece of land since Mesolithic times and in its present form, it is a forest that is well loved by individual walkers, mountain bikers and families. Garvagh People’s Forest is a 5-year project which builds on the affection people have for the forest and explores its potential for learning, play, creativity, and well-being.”
How is it People Led?
This project came from direct consultation with the people who live in and around Garvagh. After the local high school closed, an informal group of interested people and organisations formed to come up with ideas about a project to link the school site to the forest.
This group ran a number of different activities to encourage local people to share their ideas. This included a Big Forest Day which was attended by around 250 people. They also consulted five local primary schools, the local community day-care centre, and local families.
This means they got ideas from all sorts of different people living in the area and made sure their interests and expectations were represented in the final project.
How is it Connected?
After the initial consultation, a Forest Partnership Group was formed. The partnership has people from a range of different interests and walks of life in the area. Four local residents were in the group, and representatives from the Forestry Service, the Library Service, local schools, Garvagh Community Allotments and Garvagh Women’s Network, as well as others.
“Each person carries a piece of the puzzle; by collaborating you make better sense of the whole picture – it brings strength and ideas become viable,” says Karin. “The workload, the responsibility and resources can be shared.
“There are challenges too. It takes longer in terms of planning, organising, synchronising diaries; sometimes it can be hard to get consensus or know when to make a final decision.
“Having clear roles and taking time to get to know each other can help with this. Be clear about the intention – are you there to have a conversation, to consult and communicate, to coordinate different sets of actions and groups, to cooperate with someone else’s agenda or to collaborate.”
How is it Strength Based?
Garvagh Forest and its People came out of positive engagement with the community – it asked “What can we do well?” and “What are we good at?” rather than “What’s wrong here?” As a result, the project is able to make the most of the strengths people are already bringing to the table.
For example, they are working with students at North West Regional College to improve their social media presence. They are also running Forest Schools which bring together six primary schools and three pre-schools for activities shaped by the children themselves.
Karin’s advice for groups who want to be strength-based is to concentrate on building relationships.
“As relationships grow, trust deepens,” she says. “People need to feel safe and valued so that they can contribute. Use good judgement to decide when to be silent and give space to others, when to have a majority vote and when to show firm leadership.
“Someone once said, ‘Collaboration is not about gluing together existing egos. It’s about ideas that never existed until everyone entered the room.’ It’s a journey that people invest in for the long term.”