Jim Stranger (second from left), Friends of Tyers Park receives his Best Friend Award and Spencer Unthank, from Penguin Study Group, receives a Highly Commended certificate from Nina Cullen (right), Executive Director of the Biodiversity Division of the Department of the Environment, Land, Water & Planning and Paul Strickland (left) Convenor of VEFN.
Three awards were presented at the 2017 Best Friend Awards ceremony, held on 14 October at the Darebin Creek Environment Centre.
Jim Stranger, from Friends of Tyers Park, received a Best Friend Award, while Spencer Unthank, from Penguin Study Group and Pat Jeffery from Churchill Island were Highly Commended.
For the second year in a row, the Best Friend Awards were supported by the Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change, Lily D’Ambrosio. We warmly thank the minister for her generous support in the form of a $5000 grant.
The minister had planned to present the awards but, at short notice, was unable to attend. She was well represented by Nina Cullen, Executive Director of the Biodiversity Division of the Department of the Environment, Land, Water and Planning. Nina brought her young family with her so they could hear first hand about the contribution made by Friends groups throughout the state.
The diversity of Friends groups and the broad range of activities they undertake became a general theme highlighted by speakers at the ceremony. Paul Strickland, Convenor of the Victorian Environment Friends Network, opened by saying this year’s awardees demonstrate the diversity of Friends volunteers, with one group working to protect cultural heritage, another focused on a species, and a third working to enhance the natural environment of a park and engage the community through such basic things as upgrading walking tracks and introducing interpretive signage.
“This illustrates the difficulty Friends groups face in relating to government. We are too diverse to fit neatly into departmental silos,” he said.
Guest speaker, Kirsteen Thomson from Greenspace in Scotland, spoke about the need to provide a focal point to make it easier for government, councils and other statutory bodies to interact with Friends groups at a state level.
Kirsteen described the role Greenspace plays in establishing networks and forming partnerships across all levels of government and with all types of organisations.
Greenspace is an independent, charitable company, who work to improve the quality of life of people in urban Scotland through planning, development and management of greenspaces. It acknowledges the value of parks to the overall health and wellbeing of people as well as their environmental and economic benefits.
As in many places, budgets for parks are being cut and Friends groups are struggling to find other sources of funding. Greenspace provides a framework for engaging with a broad range of partners to resource projects and support the work of volunteer Friends groups.
Kirsteen gave the example of working with the supermarket chain, Tesco. When they introduced a payment for use of plastic bags, Greenspace negotiated part of the payment be channelled into resourcing greenspaces. This provides a valuable source of funding for parks while at the same time lending credibility to Tesco’s claim of supporting the environment.
Nina Cullen spoke of the ‘amazing work and tireless efforts’ of Friends groups and other volunteer environmental groups before presenting the award certificates.
After the awards presentation, James Garriock, President of the Darebin Parklands Association, thanked people for attending and invited them to take part in a guided walk around the Darebin Parklands to see, at first hand, the work undertaken by the Friends group.
Eve Recht, from Friends of Darebin Creek led the walk, providing an insight into the transformation that has taken place there. Given the warm, sunny weather, this was an excellent way to conclude the event.
The Friends Network would like to thank James and all members of Darebin Parklands Association for use of the Darebin Creek Environment Centre and for their hospitality in organising the guided walk. It was greatly appreciated by the many people who attended.