A week in the life of our Green Spaces Manager

Karen with a group of volunteers at our woodlands project

Karen Heynike is Walton Charity’s Green Spaces Manager.

She is responsible for our allotments, woodlands and other green spaces which provide opportunities for local people and community groups to get outside and learn more about planting, growing and enjoying nature.

Karen works closely with volunteers, allotment tenants and community organisations across Elmbridge.

Here, she shares a typical week with us.

Monday - admin day!

My email inbox is usually full of correspondence from tenants, residents, and neighbours raising all manner of things from bonfires on allotments, overhanging trees in neighbouring gardens or local people enquiring about renting an allotment plot.

This week my focus is to send out the annual renewal notices to all allotment tenants and to notify them that the water will be turned off during the winter months, liaising with our maintenance team to ensure this work is carried out.

Our quarterly newsletter is due to go out, so it is also time for me to write a piece on our new Tree Wardens Scheme which I’m really excited about – it’s the first of its kind in Elmbridge. I’m also writing about the newly created Kitchen Garden project at our Mayfield sheltered housing.

The final admin project for the day is to prepare the annual survey for the Community Allotment volunteers to find out what they enjoy about the allotment sessions, and what we can change and improve.

Tuesday – down to the Community Allotment

This morning I put on my Community Grower hat and run a session at our Community Allotment in Terrace Road, Walton. I run these sessions twice a week during the growing season and it is a place where anyone and everyone can come along, free of charge, and participate in the gardening/ growing activities.

Our Community Allotment is there for anyone who is facing barriers because of physical or mental health conditions, learning disabilities, or isolation. The Coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the need for more of these kind of social and therapeutic horticulture projects. I organise activities which range from laying woodchip on paths to deadheading flowers, harvesting crops or activities that help to maintain the growing space. We have a refreshment break which gives everyone time to have a catch up before they finish their tasks.

During the afternoon I spend time planning winter activities for the volunteers when the outdoor sessions are put on hold until the weather improves in the Spring.

There is also time to pop into a function held by one of our partners, Rentstart, a charity helping local people who are homeless. This is a good chance to catch up with referrers and a client who has attended our Community Allotment project in the past.

Wednesday – site visits

I start my day visiting a neighbour of one of our properties who has concerns about a fence and, on inspection, the problem was easily resolved.

Then it is time to get back to the office to catch up on social media posts for our Community Allotment project.

Back in the car, I visit another site where we are working on a new Tree Warden scheme with funding from Elmbridge Borough Council’s CIL fund. The meeting is a chance to meet with the new enthusiastic tree warden volunteers about what’s needed for the site and to plan future tree planting events.

Thursday – team meetings

One of the positive things to come out of Covid has been that as an organisation we have an all-staff meeting every other Thursday that everyone can join virtually or in person. This has been a great opportunity to get to know each other’s departments better, and take part in team training.

Whilst in the office, I authorise some invoices for the next payment run. I also work with our Communications Team to set up face-to-face interviews with some of our Community Allotment participants. The interviews will help us to create case studies for our annual Impact Report, and to use on our website and social media to show the impact of the work we do.

I then fit in a quick meeting with our Property and Maintenance team at Fenner House, working on future planning.

Friday – volunteer meet ups

Another session at the Community Allotment for our enthusiastic volunteers. During the growing season I run two sessions per week - the weather conditions rarely put our volunteers off! For many it is the highlight of their week, getting a bit of physical activity, having social interaction and leaving with a sense of achievement. They love being part of a great community of volunteers.

There is just time to meet up with the ‘Shedders’ - volunteers from the Thames Ditton Men in Sheds project down at our Community Allotment. Students from Kingston College have built a greenhouse as part of their architecture taster course and the ‘Shedders’ are helping to create some storage space inside and adjusting the wooden doors.

My role is about increasing the social value of our green spaces and I will continue to focus on creating initiatives and opportunities that respond to the growing local interest in environmental and sustainability projects.

I have seen first-hand how the Coronavirus pandemic has magnified issues relating to isolation, anxiety and other mental health concerns. There has been a huge increase in demand for outside spaces like allotment plots and for outdoor volunteer opportunities and social prescribing projects.