LlyG member blog – Working as a RENEW Wales mentor for community woodlands

Posted on June 3, 2015 by

Renew Wales supports community based action on climate change across Wales through a growing network of experienced mentors. In this guest blog Jackie Charlton (above centre in the picture), member of community woodland Llangattock and voluntary Llais y Goedwig Board Director, give’s her personal insight working as a RENEW Mentor supporting community woodland work.

Interested in becoming a mentor, or applying for funded assistance by a mentor? Contact RENEW for details.

The Llangattock mentors

At Llangattock Green Valleys Community Interest Company we have two mentors who have been appointed by RENEW Wales to support new or growing community groups with an agenda related to climate change.

My own particular expertise is in developing community woodland groups. Here I can give my person al account of how the RENEW mentoring scheme work with one project I worked on as a Mentor, with Crickhowell High School.

What is RENEW Wales?

The RENEW website states that:-

‘Renew Wales was set up by a group of community practitioners to help 200 community groups tackle the causes and impacts of climate change through advice, training, mentoring and technical support from other experienced Community Practitioners.

The support will be peer to peer from people who have already delivered projects in their communities’

Supporting a new woodland group – Crickhowell High School

In 2013 Crickhowell High School supported an idea around setting up a small woodland group and potential environmental classroom as part of the School Eco Club. Some development work was undertaken by The Green Valleys CiC in the Co-ordinator role working on the principle of peer to peer support. The Co-ordinator then called in Llangattock Green Valleys as a Mentor, once the activity moved forward.

Students met regularly and set their own agenda on projects they wished to undertake.

Now, working with schools is not easy. There are specific timetables which students and teachers need to work with and any outside community involvement is often at the bottom of the agenda so the first consideration is time.  This included when to meet, for how long and the best way to fit with the school timetable. All groups in the voluntary sector have to grapple with time and as a Mentor you really need to work with the group and their timetable.

Forming an action plan

Crickhowell High School discussed what they wanted to do with The Green Valleys Co-ordinator and when they had some ideas an Action Plan was delivered. As Mentor I was then required to provide guidance to enable the group to work through a process.

There were many obstacles to overcome the major one being access. The group came up with its’ own idea on how to access the site which is leased from a large estate by Llangattock Green Valleys. The main issue in this instance was achieving disabled access across a stream which flows into the River Usk a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).   Consultation was important and as the Mentor encouraged the Eco Club to negotiate and consult with Brecon Beacons National Park and the local Town Council and County Councillors. They all supported and contributed to the project.

So how does this work for the ‘mentee’? Well, hopefully they are able to choose what support they feel is appropriate to their group. However, when you are working with limited time and a group of students much more input is required. As the Mentor I wanted the students to take control of the project so they could take ownership. But that just didn’t happen as there were end of term activities, half term, holidays and, well, school work to do. They were a great asset though when it came to sharing their ideas with Councillors and decision makers such as the Brecon Beacons National Park Authority.

Reflecting on the process

As with any kind of project there are good things and bad. As you can see from the above the difficult part is trying to get groups to take ownership and delivering their ideas with confidence. Students are surprisingly confident but delivery was not a concept they took well to outside of their peer group. Having said that when they committed themselves to doing something they did get down and do it. As the Mentor the aim is to instil confidence and get the job done.

With this particular project some elements needed to be undertaken by Llangattock Green Valleys and the project is ongoing. It has taken over a year to get to a final stage due to difficulties with planning permission for a small wooden bridge for access and overcoming some issues on the lease as well as insurance. The final push will be bringing students and community volunteers to build the bridge giving access to the environmental classroom and woodland area for the school to encourage a woodland group.

Being a Mentor is about challenging and supporting people to achieve the goal they have set for themselves. Hopefully this happened with Crickhowell High School Eco Club and there will be a sustainable woodland group, although small, and an environmental classroom fitting well with the aims of RENEW Wales.


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