Avril Kennedy from the Connect Hackney Senior Citizens’ Media Group explains how she has gained from Hackney Green Gym
Hackney Green Gym is a conservation volunteer organisation that allows people to socialise and get some exercise – or not, as they choose.
The amount you do of either is entirely up to you – often people are just there to socialise, or just‘’to get out of the house’’. Each session lasts about three hours.
Groups of people taking part are composed of all class, age, race, gender and disability types.
Yes, the jobs are useful. But the Hackney Green Gym, run by Ben Harris of the Conservation Volunteers (TCV), exists first and foremost to offer something to people who find it rewarding to do the physical work, find out more about green space cultivation, get some fresh air or just spend some time around other people. The only real requirement is commonsense mutual respect.
This is a very open and inclusive group and people are as communicative – or not – as they choose. Nobody is ever pressurised, not even in unspoken ways, to do particular things.
I’ve found it really useful as a reason to get myself up and moving when I’m depressed and helpful in easing back into socialising after a nervous breakdown almost two decades ago that led to panic attacks, depression and intensely reclusive behaviour.
None of this stuff is ever easy, but this is the most acceptably helpful situation I’ve had the good fortune to encounter.
After four months of being there nearly every Friday, from 11am to 2pm, I’m still turning the ship around, but it’s being done without unwanted comment in an atmosphere of tolerance and readiness to help where help is wanted.
Should anyone require the attentions of a counsellor, Mind in Hackney has a representative (called Ava) who joins the group on most occasions. She is quietly helpful, not intrusive, and very knowledgeable about all sorts of other activities in Hackney that might interest anyone who approaches her. And it’s all confidential, naturally.
We tend to load all the necessary tools, along with our tea and biscuits requirements, into three or four wheelbarrows and trundle the lot along the road to wherever we happen to be working that day.
An amazing number and variety of people, driven by curiosity, will step out of their way to ask us exactly what it is we’re doing.
This group has grown by word of mouth – it’s the kind of thing that sounds somewhat dry in print and so advertising its presence in local newspapers has brought only one member – but this particular group, at least, is worth investigating.
Developing skills safely, using and caring for conservation hand tools – scythes and sharpening stones, mattocks, bow saws, loppers etc – seems to be popular with all the volunteers. No power tools are used.
The activities are various small jobs, keeping areas of local parks and green spaces safe and decorative for public use.
One example was creating a wildflower meadow by clearing brambles, tree suckers and weeds from a patch of land – leaving the very heavy clearance like tree stumps to the park authorities – then returning to sow the wildflower seeds.
Other activities include making small ponds, clearing unwanted growth out of the old filtration beds on the canal, and planting bulbs in the parks – deep enough so hungry squirrels don’t dig them up.
There are opportunities for a little carpentry, if you like building owl boxes or fitting shelves in our toolshed.
We also work with organisations with similar interests – helping various groups with their regular jobs, such as helping with the annual grass snake count and monitoring birds and wildlife.
The Green Gym is funded by Hackney Council and organised by TCV, which is a conservation charity.
TCV offers a variety of short courses to those who find their interest still engaged after a few weeks of volunteering, including first aid, safeguarding adults, safe tool use and mental health.l