An overwhelming number of volunteers flocked to open spaces across the capital to help out during the COVID-19 outbreak, says the City of London Corporation.
The governing body of the Square Mile, which manages 11,000 acres of green space across London, including Hampstead Heath and Epping Forest, saw a surge of volunteers who came forward to lend a hand across its sites, –picking litter, gardening, caring for animals and helping visitors to stay safe and maintain social distancing.
With an increasing number of visitors to all its green spaces during the hot weather, and with some vulnerable staff shielding, the City Corporation says the response was invaluable.
Volunteers included local residents, community groups and people who had been furloughed from their jobs and wanted to play their part supporting the community during the pandemic.
The City of London Corporation’s sites – which also include West Ham Park, Burnham Beeches and over 200 smaller sites in the Square Mile – attract over 23 million visits a year.
Epping Forest and Hampstead Heath have seen an encouraging number of people step forward to help with picking up the large amounts of rubbish left scattered across the land on a daily basis – which was spoiling the environment and putting added pressure on staff.
At the City Commons in the south East London/Surrey border, and Burnham Beeches near Slough, volunteers have been checking daily on grazing animals, and helping with social distancing signage.
Volunteers across West Ham Park in Newham have been kept busy informing park visitors about new walking routes in place to allow social distancing, as well ask helping to keep the park clean and tidy by litter picking.
Oliver Sells QC, Chairman of the City of London Corporation’s Open Spaces and City Gardens Committee, said:
“It has been very encouraging to see so many people want to help maintain London’s beautiful open spaces during the COIVD-19 pandemic.
“With such a rise in visitor numbers, having the extra help has been invaluable. These volunteers have been working exceptionally hard to keep our sites running smoothly for all our visitors to enjoy.
“Volunteering isn’t just a one-way street. It also has a whole host of benefits – both mentally and physically – which is why we are encouraging others to come and help out. We’d like to say a huge thank you to everyone who volunteered across our sites – helping to protect and conserve these vitally important pockets of green across the capital.”
Colin Houston, Projects and Volunteer Manager of Heath Hands at Hampstead Heath said:
“During the lockdown, there’s been a phenomenal upsurge in support from the local community to help care for the Heath. It’s been greatly appreciated to see individuals and groups gathering to pick up litter, and this has been a massive help to our staff who are out each day keeping our open spaces clean.
“Our parks and open spaces are more important than ever, and volunteering somewhere like Hampstead Heath is truly rewarding. Some volunteers enjoy the exercise, some the social side, while others like the sense of giving something back to their local community and green space. The contribution volunteers make to keeping our green spaces special is truly amazing.”
Andrew Booth, a regular volunteer at Stoke Common and part of the Friends of Stoke Common group, said:
“It has been great to be able to volunteer again by watching the livestock and speaking with visitors during the day. Asking the visitors to social distance with the livestock, to a longer distance, is easier now as most visitors immediately understand.
“Going out to Burnham Beeches has been great as I know I will be spending more time in the open.”
All help has been carried out whilst maintaining social distancing. Volunteers have been provided with information on how to stay safe, and the City Corporation is providing plastic bags, gloves and litter pickers.
The City of London Corporation funds its open spaces with over £29 million a year. They include important wildlife habitats, Sites of Special Scientific Interest, and National Nature Reserves. They are protected from being built on by special legislation.
Visit the City Corporation website to find out more about volunteering opportunities – https://www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/green-spaces/management-of-our-green-spaces/Pages/volunteering.aspx