Meet the Friends of West Gorton Community Park

West Gorton Community Park is one of the Northern Network’s pilot hubs and our project facilitators Amy Wright and Suzanne Walton have been engaging local residents to help create a sense of ownership.

The Park is a vibrant new green space that first opened in Spring 2020, thanks to EU funding and the support of a variety of Grow Green partners. Groundwork had already been engaging with local people throughout the park’s development and had unearthed a desire for a vibrant greenspace which hosted a variety of activities for families and the wider community.

Aware of the benefits of the Friends Of group model, Groundwork’s Community Lead’s started to discuss the idea of establishing a ‘Friend of West Gorton Community Park’ group.

Local volunteers were in support, however in order for the group to be a success, it needed committee members who could each play a different role in creating activities, bringing local residents together and ultimately establishing the park as a Green Community Hub where residents could connect with nature and each other. Thankfully in April 2021 this first committee was set up and in July 2023 a second cohort of committee members were elected from the local community.

Let’s say hello to a few of them:

Meet Emma – Chair

Emma moved to West Gorton a few years ago and felt strongly that there should be an environment where people of all ages can get together and enjoy the park space. When Community Lead, Lydia met Emma she suggested that she became a regular volunteer so she could make her ideas a reality, creating events and activities for the community.

As a result of her volunteering, Emma has organised events including the Christmas light switch-on, Easter egg hunts and the opening of a brand-new sensory garden.

By being involved in these activities, Emma has seen improvements in her own wellbeing:

“Communities need to get together for the community, for children, for elderly, for mental health. My physical and mental health has gotten better, I was on tablets before we started the park and now I’m not on anything”

With Emma at the centre of all major events in the park it was clear she was the perfect fit for Chair of the Friends Of group. She understands what the local residents need and always strives to make a change:

“There’s a lot of parents around here who have children with additional needs and they’ve said that them coming to the park has made the children feel better and safer”

Luckily, Emma has recently found two regular volunteers who can help her organise the community events alongside her new responsibilities.

Meet Lynda – Secretary

Lynda is one of the newer neighbours of the committee, moving to West Gorton only a year ago from Nigeria. After working for the UN for almost 10 years, Lynda wanted a career change and set her sights on moving across the world to study at Manchester Metropolitan University.

Lynda heard about the group from her friend, Tolu, who also lives in the area:

“She lives in the neighbourhood and when I came to visit last year (before I moved here) she told me about the area and the committee she belonged to. She said that they do things for the community, and even though I hadn’t moved yet I was still interested. And then when I moved I got a house near the park, joined the committee and it’s all been great from there.”

Lynda loves being a part of the committee, and praised Emma for all her hard work bringing the group to life:

“Emma is a force to be reckoned with! To know Emma is to love Emma, she does everything for this community and the activities keep the kids busy and out of trouble. It makes all the free time we have recreational and fun, and sometimes the adults even love the activities more than the children!”

When asked what the group would like to do in the future, Lynda spoke about how the committee wanted to start planning activities for both adults and teenagers too:

“They say that little drops of water make a mighty ocean, I think the little things the committee has been doing will have a ripple effect into something very big. We’re thinking it could blossom into activities for adults, and for teenagers too since most of these activities are for little kids. We’ve been thinking about food fairs and things that could help individuals such as housewives and husbands to get out and do more!”

Meet Tolu – Treasurer

Having also moved from Nigeria to study in Manchester, Tolu was new to the area when she joined the committee as the Treasurer. However, she had also heard about the group before she moved thanks to family who lived nearby:

“My uncle lives in Gorton and I came over for a vacation in 2021, and he told me about the community and I wanted to see the group. Luckily, I got a place overlooking the park and it’s been an exciting journey getting to see the community first hand, it’s like a big family!”

Tolu also had a lot of positive things to say about Emma, praising her dedication to the community:

“Our Chair Emma always has a solution to any problems no matter what gets thrown at her. She’s always organising activities and getting everyone involved, which led to me agreeing to become a volunteer”

Highlights for Tolu so far have included the Mayor visiting to open their sensory garden, and the seasonal Halloween events. She also sees value in her children getting involved and meeting other people in the community:

“There’s so much for the children to do with the playground and surrounding nature. It helps to keep them away from crime, and it’s good to start them off at this age connecting with likeminded people so they don’t go down a bad road later on!”

Tolu also shared how activities are always built around community needs, with Emma posting in their Facebook group to ask for opinions and ideas.

“There’s a lot of community input and it helps residents to know more about events coming up. Everyone chips in so activities can bloom, and it’s always fun to do!”

How to set up a Friends Group

Perhaps you’ve been inspired to set up your own friends group to support a shared green space near you? Any community of people can set up a Friends of Group, and it’s a great way to manage a Green Community Hub. Read our guide below…

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