Calverley community pull together for remarkable playspace

14/3/18

At first glance the Calverley Adventure Grounds project was not particularly out-of-the ordinary in terms of design brief or implementation, what was unusual was that it was a project initiated and largely funded by a local group, The Friends of Calverley Grounds, who were working in collaboration with the land owner Tunbridge Wells Borough Council to enable the scheme. Indeed it is an extraordinary example of how a project can galvanise a community to come together and jointly fundraise, successfully delivering a much loved, highly valued play space which now sits firmly at the heart of the local community.

Looking back, the thing that strikes me most was the sheer determination of the small hugely dedicated team of volunteers who took on the extraordinary challenge to raise £225k over a 12 month period. The project was made possible because the group was well led and structured, with key roles and responsibilities established from the outset. Some of the most inventive aspects of the project were linked to the fundraising and social media campaigns and these were often wide and far ranging in their scope:

  • more standard grant application submissions (with two significant landfill grants successes totalling £75k and a number of smaller grants ranging from £0.5-4k);
  • a local business launch held and sponsored by Royal Victoria Place, the town’s local shopping venue, with many invited companies coming forward in the coming months to support the project via direct sponsorship of a piece of play equipment or providing a much needed service, volunteers, raffle or auction prize; indeed Timberplay, the play manufacturer who were supplying the main elements of the scheme generously donated several pieces of equipment which gave the project a big boost at the start of the campaign;
  • an Eggstravaganza Easter community fun day held on site re-establishing a long lost egg-rolling tradition in the Grounds, along with egg and spoon races which helped to engage local children and families in the project and gain much useful feedback to influence the design;
  • the Jam Jar Campaign which reached out to local schools and community groups to raise funds through sponsored walks, cake sales, raffles etc. with the local branch of Metro bank collecting the jars of coins (raising £6k) and handing out money boxes;
  • a very smart Black Tie Ball event with live auction (raising an impressive £24k);
  • and a highly cherished children’s Variety Show of local talent, held and supported by the Assembly Halls (£20k) which acted as the final grand finale of the fundraising campaign.

One campaign which I had direct involvement with was the ‘Calverley Community Wall’ an initiative to encourage local businesses, families and individuals to donate funds towards the scheme and have their name acknowledged within a piece of public art designed by acclaimed artist, Gordon Young, famed for his Blackpool ‘Comedy Carpet’, who the team had remarkably persuaded to become involved. Consisting of ten corten panels attached along the face of an existing retaining wall, the art piece acts as a lasting legacy to the collaboration of so many people; and keeping true to staying local, a nearby engineering company stepped forward to help sponsor and manufacture the laser cut piece; with the Wall contributing over £40k towards the project’s fundraising target.

All of these initiatives were reinforced by a hugely effective social media campaign using Facebook and Twitter platforms, supported by website and promotional film (played before each film screening at the local Trinity Theatre cinema), each helping to reach a wide audiences. More traditional publicity routes were not overlooked with regular features and updates appearing in local magazines and Council publications, whilst The Times of Tunbridge Wells free newspaper published a number of articles.

Testament to the strength and power of community, the £225k target was raised within 24 hours of the 12 month deadline, marking a major milestone in the project’s journey to fruition.

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