«Case study, survey, diary and interview research on FCRM volunteering Report – SC120013/R3 We are the Environment Agency. We protect and improve ...»
The contact and communication with the Environment Agency is close and regular, and involves engagement with different parts of the Environment Agency. The RSC community engagement team, for example, has monthly meetings with Environment Agency staff involved in work associated with implementation of the Water Framework Directive to direct tasks that the casual volunteers can tackle in the work parties. The RSC’s landscape team works together in discussion with the Environment Agency’s FRCM team to help to direct the contracted work.
The RSC and Environment Agency are also working together to see how the RSC model and contracting can be applied in other catchments. The Environment Agency innovation team is looking at ways to propagate the social enterprise stewardship model through to other parts of the business. It has also organised meetings within the Environment Agency to show other parts of the business how this model of social enterprise and volunteering works, what social and environmental benefits accrue, and how they might be able to adopt aspects of the partnership arrangement themselves.
Motivations and benefits to RSC Although volunteering is not explicitly a core objective of the RSC, it is an essential part of its way of working. For example, a representative of Sheffield City Council views volunteering as being ‘at the core’ of the RSC because the organisation developed from the work of other voluntary organisations such as the Five Weirs Walks Trust and the wider environmental volunteering movement in Sheffield.
The weekly volunteering sessions began almost from the start of the RSC as a way to involve local people in their rivers and is seen by the RSC as an effective way to meet its social aim. The long-term voluntary river stewards are essential to the commercial river management contracts, both economically and as a way of demonstrating social responsibility and value added.
Case study and survey research on FCRM volunteering The involvement of long-term volunteers and the nurturing of their development over
time is seen by the RSC as:
‘a good culture to work in […] it is just good for everybody’.
Benefits to the Environment Agency The Environment Agency gains benefits through the contracting of river stewardship tasks, either directly by the Environment Agency or through contracts with other riverside land owners such as Sheffield Forgemasters. The volunteers, and Friends of the Blue Loop which has grown out of that project, act as an extra set of eyes and ears on the river. This forms an early warning system for particular problems – those associated with flood risk, as well as those connected with other responsibilities such as problems with fish gates and ladders, and issues of river poaching.
New projects such as Riverlution have a more specific focus on building community resilience with an aspiration to involve local people and build their sense of ownership of the river and the maintenance tasks rather than relying on casual volunteer work
parties. As one person said, what RSC was working to achieve is to:
‘to get good engagement, ownership I suppose, not the volunteering where you go out at a set time every week to do set stuff. We need to move to the sort of continuous volunteering …. the more flexible forms of volunteering ….. that’s more innovative and perhaps more useful …. better engagement …. that’s where the time banking idea comes in really’.
Many of the volunteer tasks carried out through the contracting and through projects such as Blue Loop and Riverlution are linked with overcoming failures to meet Water Framework Directive objectives and the associated flood risk.
Motivations and benefits to partners Sheffield City Council identified the following of its strategic objectives as being met
through working with the RSC:
• doing more with less
• increasing flood protection
• increasing habitat and access provision Motivation and benefits to voluntary river stewards The RSC suggested that most voluntary river stewards are looking to develop a career
in countryside management. They are therefore volunteering to:
• add to their formal qualifications and range of experience
• gain informal experience of working within a team
• meet different types of people from the public through to clients and contractors
• make new contacts and find routes into networks of green organisations
• get to know and access opportunities in other organisations The landscape team manager said 66 Case study and survey research on FCRM volunteering ‘If there is something we can’t offer them it might be that we can signpost them to another organisation, increase their breadth of experience.’ One of the voluntary river stewards described the opportunity to volunteer with the RSC as ‘unique’ because volunteers are working in a commercial environment rather than just on purely grant-funded initiatives. This, combined with the range of contracts and the opportunity to work in the office, means the volunteering offer from the RSC is much more professional and the experience better for those wanting to get paid work in the sector.
Motivation and benefits to casual volunteers The causal volunteers fall into a number of different categories, many come to build up their CVs and are looking to upskill or change their careers. There are also volunteers who come through health services on referral, through the Youth Justice service, or because they have particular social needs that volunteering can help them with. For
example, the volunteers supporting the community team manager include:
• a 22 year-old man with autism looking for an organised structured set of activities
• a mid-40s man who has lived overseas for many years and is looking for skills to build his CV
• a retired man who was a care worker with young people wanting to carry on using his professional skills and involvement with giving back to the community in some way Other volunteers who take part in the Friends of Blue Loop group or the regular work parties may be volunteering their time and involvement in activities reflecting their personal interests. For example, there are fishermen in the Friends of Blue Loop Group as well as regular walkers and nearby residents.
The key challenges of working with volunteers were identified as:
• managing the mix of casual and long term volunteers
• behavioural issues associated with some volunteers
• health and safety issues involved working with volunteers in a water environment
• high staff costs associated with managing outdoor volunteers not just during the volunteering event but also the communication, co-ordination, recording, monitoring, cleaning tools and so on; a three-hour volunteer session probably represents a whole day of staff effort with outdoor volunteers
• staff costs associated with managing office-based volunteers can be high
• dealing with the relatively high turnover as they tend to be looking for work and leave after relatively short periods Case study and survey research on FCRM volunteering Guidance All the RSC staff have either come up through the volunteering pathway or worked with long-term trainee volunteers before and so all are quite experienced in this field. The most regularly used guidance is around health and safety; otherwise staff tend to discuss issues between themselves.
Evidence of impact and outcomes RSC collects some information about their volunteers, but it tends to be limited to volunteer demographics and volunteer hours, and is collected where it is a necessary part of reporting back to funders. It is considered to be a time-consuming process, particularly as the RSC does not use the information it collects for its own purposes.
The future The main challenge facing the RSC is maintaining a flow of income that does not rely on grants or public contracting. The social enterprise model relies on generating income from customers wider than public sector clients, because even public sector funds which are seemingly committed can be insecure and pulled out without notice.
As one respondent put it:
‘They [RSC] could then get an awful lot further more quickly … it’s just very uncertain for them even where they think finance has been secured. Local authorities are pulling out at the last minute … ‘sorry we don’t have the funds anymore’’’.
There is hope that more work can be found contracting for local businesses situated close to the river and with larger organisations such as the Canal and Rivers Trust.
Probably the biggest opportunity is for the RSC to win a contract soon to be advertised to maintain the Don channel as part of a new flood protection scheme for the Lower Don Valley. This is to be funded by an innovative ‘Business Improvement District’ which allows the council, supported by the Chamber of Commerce, to collect a levy from all benefiting businesses. This model, if successful, would create a sustainable mechanism to support river stewardship in the long term.
It is hoped that Riverlution is a project that will begin to increase partnership working with an even wider group of stakeholders in the River Don and adjoining catchments. It is also hoped that Riverlution can begin to find new and innovative ways to engage communities in Sheffield to take up more ‘ownership’ of their rivers and look to build community interest and resilience around them.
From the Environment Agency’s perspective, there is interest in applying the RSC model in other catchments. However, it is uncertain how great the potential is for elements of this model to be copied elsewhere, as it feels very specific to the local context. The financial and tangible value of the stewardship model has not yet been formally evaluated and demonstrated in quantitative terms. Uptake of new ideas and models like this one can also be slow.
4.8.4 Bodenham Flood Protection Group This case study is provided as an example of communities acting ‘for themselves’.
68 Case study and survey research on FCRM volunteering Background and context Bodenham is a small village situated eight miles north of Hereford and seven miles south of Leominster. The 2011 census records a village population of just under 1,000.
The village is divided by the River Lugg, and distinct areas of the village are recognised by the villagers as having slightly different social characteristics and sense of community.
The village is located in the flood plain of the River Lugg, which runs between the old part of Bodenham to the west and the newer development of Bodenham Moor to the east. A number of small brooks drain into the Lugg within the parish of Bodenham and there is a major culverted and canalised brook running through the village which discharges into the River Lugg. This brook runs south of the main A417 through Bodenham Moor down to the River Lugg just upstream of Bodenham Bridge.
Bodenham Flood Protection Group (BFPG) was formed in response to major flooding in July 2007. The flooding was caused by significant surface water run-off from the surrounding hills and main road flowing into the brook, but impeded from reaching the River Lugg because of blockages and debris along the channel and in the culverts.
More than 35 properties, mainly in the Moor area, were flooded (Figure 4.30). The historic St Michael’s Church was also affected.
The villagers were deeply affected by the flood as a community and realised they were unprepared for coping with these kinds of unexpected and serious events. There was a strong feeling that something needed to be done about the causes of the flooding as well as co-ordinating the community response to emergency events and providing support to flooded households. An important motivation for this was the significant elderly population in the village, including those living in the Siward James sheltered housing complex. The villagers felt a sense of duty towards this part of their community.
Figure 4.30 Flooding along the road and field margins running through to the Moor Source: BFPG web pages (www.
bodenhamparish.org.uk) The first step in the group’s formation was a post-flooding parish meeting involving other agencies including Herefordshire County Council, the River Lugg Internal Case study and survey research on FCRM volunteering Drainage Board and the Environment Agency. This meeting provided an opportunity to discuss flooding causes and potential solutions, as well as to provide more information about the responsibilities of the various stakeholders. The villagers understood from the meeting that responsibility for maintenance of the infrastructure lay in part with local landowners as well as householders, and that the ability of other agencies to manage their flood risk was relatively limited. At that time the Environment Agency’s responsibility lay with the Welsh Government as this part of Herefordshire lay in the Welsh River Wye catchment. It is now different with English and Welsh political boundaries along the rivers Wye and Severn rather than a strict catchment focus.
By February 2008 the group had formed itself as a sub-committee of the parish council.
Being part of the parish council was important as it provided adequate public liability and other insurance for the group and conferred legal means to undertake flood risk and management activities within the community. There is general agreement that the new members (recent incomers) to the community were particularly important in motivating the village to take action and pushing through new solutions for the community to deal with its problems. As one person commented ‘the community spirit led by some people translated to everybody else’. The most important factors in the
successful establishment of the group included:
• strong personalities willing and able to provide the time and enthusiasm to build the group
• connections with local and regional agencies and organisations Activities From an initial membership of about 12 households in 2008, the group has grown to include upwards of 40 members from across the community. Its aims are written into its constitution and include action to mitigate flood risks, as well as planning and action to help vulnerable members of the community pre- and post-flooding.