Campaign volunteering: the voices for our countryside
In this post, as part of our celebration of Volunteers’ Week, Crewenna Dymond (Geography BA 1997, PhD 2003), Director for Volunteering and Partnerships at CPRE the countryside charity, reflects on how volunteers can make a difference and change lives.
For volunteering professionals this year’s coronavirus pandemic has been both a challenge and a huge opportunity. For me and my team at CPRE, the countryside charity it’s been a year of great change and innovation. I lead a relatively newly-formed team (perfectly so IMHO) and we bring decades of collective experience from across the charity sector.
At CPRE we believe that a beautiful and thriving countryside enriches all our lives and we work hard to enhance, promote and protect it, including the communities within it. We are a network of 42 local charities and one national charity all working together. The more voices speaking up for our countryside the more effective we can be together at tackling the climate emergency, the nature crisis and the social inequalities that exist in rural areas.
“The team and I help stop or mitigate the effect of inappropriate development. We educate members and the public on the importance of the countryside for all and on environmental and planning issues. The work is therefore hugely satisfying.”
CPRE Lancashire chair of trustees
‘Don’t fast-track fracking’
In May 2018 the government released proposals to fast-track planning approval for fracking applications. Calling shale gas exploration ‘permitted development’ and designating production applications as nationally significant infrastructure projects were both attempts to sidestep planning rules. Protests had begun much earlier in affected communities such as in Lancashire and Sussex, but by mid-2018 the campaign had picked up pace.
Coordinated efforts by CPRE volunteers and national teams took the ‘Don’t fast-track fracking’ campaign to all levels of government. This was possible thanks to the 200,000 people who signed a CPRE petition on political activism platform 38 Degrees, 14,000 letters sent to MPs and 6,000 letters to council leaders; all giving the countryside a voice.
Photo credit: CPRE
Our own research showed that only 13% of people thought the government were listening to their concerns about fracking. The government finally dropped fracking proposals in November 2019, but hasn’t banned it permanently. This was ultimately a victory for people power, and one that CPRE and the local CPRE network were proud to have been part of.
Volunteering in lockdown
Over the last 12 months the pandemic has impacted our volunteers and our campaigning work. Lockdown restrictions prevented people from meeting face to face and a dependence on volunteers using their own IT equipment from home meant it took some time to get everyone online. The vast majority of volunteers have now been able to move to online courses, meetings and webinars.
We are seeing changes in who volunteers too. Like many charities we’ve benefited from more people re-evaluating their priorities about how they spend their free time, as well as possibly having more time to spare. A growth in volunteer numbers has coincided with investments we’ve made in digital systems to help us develop and promote volunteer roles to a wider audience. We welcome everyone to volunteer with us and are working hard to create meaningful roles which fit with people’s interests, skills and availability.
“Returning to the UK just as COVID broke meant there was little chance of my getting employment in the immediate term. I was keen to take up a voluntary role to help keep me occupied but could never have anticipated how much I’ve valued it for my wellbeing during our long year of lockdown — even just keeping my mind busy and connecting with the team on Zoom.”
CPRE Derbyshire volunteer
Valuing green space
Lockdown restrictions have affected us all, and if like me you’ve stopped to appreciate the green space near you just a little bit more, you’re not alone. ONS data shows that one in every eight households doesn’t have its own garden. But the green space next door to millions of people living in our towns and cities is under threat like never before. Green Belt land is supposed to be protected to prevent urban sprawl but CPRE’s 2021 State of the Green Belt report shows that there are a quarter of a million homes planned for Green Belt land — a rise of 475% since 2013.
“Volunteering has helped me to feel that I am contributing to an organisation which is trying to protect and improve the local green spaces which were so important, not just to me but to everyone, during this trying year.”
CPRE London volunteer
CPRE has campaigned for effective planning of development throughout its history and this past 12 months has seen campaigners across the country leap into action once again. They have explained the pitfalls of the current system to a wider audience, how the governments’ new planning proposals fall short of achieving ambitions for nature and climate change and have worked on a joint vision for planning ‘what gets built and where’ with 18 other organisations.
Photo credit: Mikhail Riches/Tim Crocker
Once again, the commitment and determination of volunteers helped shape the vision and the campaign. 43,000 people signed our ‘Don’t deregulate planning’ petition, while 10,000 letters were sent to MPs from supporters. The pressure from people across the country helped to persuade government to drop the method it uses to calculate housing need (the so-called ‘mutant algorithm’) which has driven pressure for new homes across the country, including the Green Belt.
Saying ‘thank you’
Our charity can be most effective when we have expertly coordinated campaigns that make it clear and easy for supporters to take part, whether they are totally new to CPRE or seasoned volunteers. We’re learning all the time how to make this easier and how to increase the capacity of the local CPRE charities to engage their communities and decision-makers on local issues that concern them.
This year as part of Volunteers Week we will be celebrating the contribution of volunteers across the country and saying ‘thank you’. Sometimes thank you doesn’t seem enough, but we know that most people feel satisfied in knowing that they did make a difference, and that, in the end, is what volunteering is all about.
Crewenna Dymond (Geography BA 1997, PhD 2003) is Director for Volunteering and Partnerships at CPRE the countryside charity
Twitter: @crewenndy LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/crewennadymond
Celebrating Leeds alumni volunteers
From a deckhand sailing to give humanitarian aid, to a Covid-19 community care volunteer delivering essentials in Leeds. Across the world and right back here on campus, Leeds alumni are supporting causes close to their hearts.
For Volunteers’ Week 2021, a time to celebrate the contribution of volunteers everywhere, join us as we discover Leeds alumni volunteering stories.
And if you are interested in volunteering to support students and graduates at Leeds, get in touch to find out how.