Friends of Rowntree Park have been doing a lot of work with teenage girls already, but last month they ran a whole set of events designed to get older girls into the park and having fun. In this blog post, Abigail Gaines, their charity manager, explains how they achieved so much with a small budget - and what she has learned from running the programme.
In June 2023, in Rowntree Park in York, we hosted a whole month's programme of free events and activities aimed at older girls. Sessions included sports and fitness classes, art and craft workshops, music and dance performances, health and wellbeing, nature crafts and conservation, photography and awareness sessions. There were over 30 events, and around 250 girls aged 8-18 who attended events through the month.
The month’s programme was linked to my ongoing work as part of the Friends of Rowntree Park, with regard to making the park more welcoming to older girls.The Friends project started in 2021 and following research, focus groups, and observations two key elements of the project emerged - trying to get equipment in the park that local girls have asked for, and more events and activities for older girls. The ‘Make Space for Girls’ in Rowntree Park June programme of events was both to raise awareness of the cause, and also to empower teenage girls and help to create a welcoming, safe and inclusive space.
The feedback has been amazing, and seeing the girls having fun, taking risks, trying new things and meeting like minded people is just wonderful. It’s also helped build a community of older girls who are onboard to help continue with our project, as it’s important to us that they are the ‘change makers’ that they see they can make a difference.
“Brilliant initiative, providing girls with confidence and a sense of community and belonging”.
“Such as great programme and opportunity to meet similar age girls in the local and safe area”
“Thank you so much for such an amazing month, great to try new activities and meet new people, my daughter really gained in confidence by taking part”
How did we do the ‘MakeSpace for Girls’ June programme of events in Rowntree Park?
The important thing here is that we are not a massive organisation or a council, nor did we have lots of funding. Anyone can make a difference!
Starting point -permission to use a park
To run events/a programme of events in Rowntree Park was pretty straightforward for us, as over the years we have developed a relationship with the council and we already take responsibility for events in the park. For someone wanting to do something similar elsewhere - contact the local Friends group, or your Ward Councillors will be able to put you in touch with the ‘Public Realms’ team from the council. Various councils are run differently and different groups oversee parks, so ward/local councillors are a good point of contact to start with.
For our June programme of events, we only had minimal funding of £250 from our charity project fund. We managed a lot on a little! However, to run again we will be seeking grant funding or sponsorship (more on that later).
What the programme of events would look like
We’d already done research over the last two years, so had lots of information on what older girls wanted to see in the park. We also contacted those on the mailing list we’d build up with an additional survey to see what sorts of things they were interested in seeing in the programme.
Next was all out on social media and via our members newsletter for people to run sessions. I’d written a guide for people interested regarding what the project was about, what we wanted from them, and mentioning that it was them volunteering their skills and time - fortunately many people/organisations were passionate about the cause and wanted to support it.
After initial expressions of interest, I created an online form so facilitators could fill in the information needed regarding their session. This was used to create a timetable of events. I also asked them to send logos/photos to be used for marketing and advertising.
Building a team
I started this project on my own, but advertised via our social media for any help with graphics regarding posters and brochure design. I was fortunate a local graphics firm created me a logo, and another volunteer offered to create the layout of the online and printed booklet. A few weeks in, I also got some admin help with some emails. I did all coordination, creating the timetable, social media, website, and creating promotional material such as flyers and posters and more.
Our members' newsletter, posters and banners in the park and local venues and lots of social media was used to create interest in the programme - starting around a month before the programme. Printed brochures were left in key places, but mainly the brochure was online (to save costs). I also advertised a link to a mailing list people could join to be the first to get hold of the programme and book free places (created using online forms). I shared ‘assets’ with all facilitators using a dropbox folder (general graphics created, posters, and also images for their events) and asked them to promote through their own channels as well as me promoting via ours. Local schools were contacted with information for their newsletter, and other local organisations like to share (including council bodies) were contacted. I also created press releases and was in the local paper, local TV and also BBC Radio York talking about the programme.
Booking or drop in event
I wanted the programme to be free to encourage participation, however some facilitators needed to keep numbers low for logistical reasons. Therefore, some events had to be booked in advance. We already have a booking system for this, so this was easy enough for us. Those without could use online forms. Some events remained ‘drop in’. We did state parents/carers should remain with their child, as an extra precaution - though most of the facilitators were enhanced DBS checked. Also some of the activities were suited to mums and daughters, so it worked well.
Communication with facilitators
I sent an information sheet to all facilitators to explain what was needed including things like public liability insurance and basic risk assessments.Also information on the logistics of the day, what resources we could provide and if they had any specific requirements. I also checked in a few days before their event, and where relevant, sent a list of names, ages and emergency details for participants. As this was the first time the programme had run, I did try to be at the start of each event, or sent another volunteer if I wasn’t around.
Each event was approximately an hour long. We had a feather flag and an A-board for the events to help raise awareness of what was happening. Getting photographs at the events was great for promotion and continuing to raise awareness.
What may we do differently in the future?
Need more help - As the project lead, there was a lot for me to do. I get why things like this have an ‘events team’- I had a little help, but not enough! To run this again I'd like to create a team of people to take on more roles - I’d advertise for volunteers a few months before. I’d also ask facilitators to take a bigger role in being responsible for their event and promoting it (some did this well, others less so), perhaps they could handle their own bookings and communication with participants too.
Funding - There was a lot of work and some roles/time needs to be paid for, along with key resources. This programme was run on a minimum budget which shows it can happen, but it could be better and more sustainable with financial support. I’ll be looking for grants to run again. It is possible to do a lot less and still have impact, so don’t let lack of funding put you off, it’s possible!
Booked events v drop in - I also found, the events people booked into were better attended - it was like a ‘commitment’. It also made more sense to have details of who was coming, therefore if an event had to be cancelled, you’d know who to contact.
Demographics - age wise the girls attending events tended to be more 10-13 and engaging the older girls is harder, and something to consider moving forward. However, by getting the younger age group involved also has benefits as they are being made aware this is their park and there are things for them, and that should have lasting impact. We did have girls from a range of backgrounds and from across the city, but working alongside some new connections made through this work, there are ways to reach other groups including the refugee communities.
Involve local girls to plan and run the event - There is the potential to involve the local girls more. I have collected evaluation forms and specifically asked who’d be interested in helping organise and run the programme next year. Roles could include founding facilitators, marketing and advertising, social media content creation and more.
Key takeaways / final thoughts
Looking back now, I am amazed that I managed to pull all this together in such a small space of time and with a minimal budget. The programme was a real success and that was demonstrated by the numbers involved and the positive feedback. I really believe the programme has helped raise awareness of the need to ‘Make Space for Girls’ in parks, people are talking about it! What’s great is that it’s opened up conversations. Hearing my 10 year old son try to explain to his friends why we need to ‘make space for girls’ in parks was beyond amazing! The evaluation forms are full of positive feedback, and I’ve received lots of positive emails and interest in the project.
Some events were suitable for women as well as older girls, and it was lovely to see mothers and daughters spending time together in the park. Notable sessions for this included yoga, orienteering, run sessions and water colour painting.
“Loved being able to attend some sessions together with my daughter - really valuable time”.
“Such great ideas. My daughter is having a really difficult time at the moment, being able to come to events for her really helped her sense of well-being and appreciation of community.”
"Absolutely brilliant program of events, my daughter has loved trying new activities and she definitely has more confidence in using certain areas of the park now. She and I both really appreciate the masses of work that it must have taken “.