It’s ten years since Friends of Witton Lakes (FOWL) was started – I spoke to Linda Hines MBE, one of it’s founders to find out more about the people who care for a pair of former drinking water reservoirs between Perry Common and Erdington.
The lakes are now maintained as a leisure amenity by Birmingham City Council. One is used for model boating and the other nature conservation. Linda explains more about the Friends group:
‘We were set up really for a duckling watch, where we patrol the lakes and try and educate people in environmental issues about dog fouling and dropping litter, but really about the birds who were having their eggs stolen and destroyed year after year. The Friends group are a very active group.’
Linda has been Chair of the Friends group for seven years, working closely with Birmingham City council:
‘Knowing the [BCC] officers well, we have managed to change the grass cutting schedules to stop it being manicured to death. Longer grass around the edge helps stop litter getting in the lakes, but also for the wildlife, the insects…It needs to look like people care about it but also slightly wild. A lot of the original members knew what they wanted to do but didn’t know how to do it.’
Linda has a common sense approach to how to help her community thrive and a talent for raising money for community projects. The finance needed was only possible because of the expertise of volunteers like Linda, and has been shared through the governments Guide Neighbourhoods programme.
‘Schools now do pond dipping – we’ve improved water quality. All activities are primarily in the interest of residents . It’s a very deprived area. When you might not have enough food to eat or money to heat your house, the last thing you think about is your local Park and how you might look after that.
We heard about four years ago that because of the budget cuts to the council there was a chance they might be selling off the Park keepers cottage here, so I immediately put in an expression of interest to put in an asset transfer for the walled site. It took four years, but we got it, a lease for 25 years!
We have the magic portacabin that is a tearoom! Disabled access…The tearoom was funded by Tesco, so we’ve now got a toilet. They want somewhere to eat and somewhere to go to the toilet, and somewhere to go for a drink and they’ve got it, and it’s run by volunteers.’
The Friends of Witton Lakes now have an agreement to maintain the orchard and grow basic vegetables and fruit for two local foodbanks. Witton Lodge working with the Friends group have now raised half a million pounds from the Big Lottery to build an Eco hub.
‘There’s fuel poverty – how do you know how to save money? If you can’t afford to eat you’re not going to fit solar panels. It’s about basic stuff, it’ll be a case study in your own living room. Your seating needs to be away from the radiator, you fill your kettle with as much water as you need, things like that. It’ll also have a turfed roof and a living wall. We’re installing hydroelectric power in the lake. The hydro power and ground source heat will be enough to power that building.’
The hub will build on the work Linda and many other volunteers have already done in their area, and we hope to work more with FOWL over the coming years:
‘Thanks to National Lottery funding, this much-loved community space will get a new lease of life, with plenty of activities on offer for people to get involved in.’James Harcourt, grant-making director at the Big Lottery Fund,
To find out more about the plans, visit the Orchard Tearoom – which is through the green gates by the dividing path between the two lakes. The tearoom is open on Mondays from 12-4pm and Fridays from 10am to 1pm and the next public event is a spring clean up 27th April 10am.