Adaica Rodriguez has certainly packed variety into her working life. From studying breeding seabirds on the Farne Isles, to dealing with consultations over protected areas and designated sites, she has enjoyed an interesting career. However, a stint working in Aberdeen on a Green Infrastructure site remains amongst her fondest memories.
Now working with NatureScot, Adaica is proud of what Middlefield Park in Aberdeen achieved. “I was new to the area’, she explains, “I had been doing a summer stint on the Farne Isles working with seabirds, and when the season ended I was lucky to get the chance to work in Aberdeen as a Community Ranger. My job was to organise community engagement around the Middlefield Project.
“I was so excited to be back in a city and finally see lots of people. I’m a sociable person, so getting into an urban setting really worked for me. In no time at all people were waving to me in the streets, and popping over to have a chat.
“I loved the energy that the community had and I could appreciate their big ambitions. We built great relations with the schools in this area and children from Heatheryfold, Middlefield and Bramble Brae Primary Schools were regulars in my outdoor learning sessions. Being surrounded by 20 or so kids really felt good for me, and the children would spot me afterwards and say, ‘that’s the person that talks about birds and bring binoculars out’.”
Adaica’s Middlefield role was specifically about encouraging the local community. “A big part of my job was to deliver outdoor learning, and that became really interesting. We had so many good facilities on the back of the Green Infrastructure project.
“From woodland and wetlands, to the burn and wildflowers, we were never short of subjects. Amongst the activities we tackled were looking at the soil we had in the park and checking the properties of the water in the burn. One of the schools wanted to link numeracy with nature, so we looked to see how we could connect the two. I had four sessions a week connecting numeracy with outdoor learning and it went really well. My work didn’t stop there either, there was such a clamour for outdoor learning in this area. Pretty soon the schools were using their school grounds as well as the park to continue the learning experience.”
Middlefield Community Park was already a well-known local greenspace before Adaica arrived, but she quickly sensed that the Green Infrastructure Funded project was going to be a winner. “I’d say that the local community took to the idea of a rejuvenated area with some pride. Local residents loved their local spaces but felt that places like Middlefield needed improvements and sometimes lagged behind bigger city centre spaces. There was a real appreciation when the council announced that they were going to make huge changes to the park.
“Residents felt really excited. The council must take a lot of credit for that as they ran an excellent consultation exercise which asked various age groups what they wanted. The end result reflected many popular community wishes.”
Perhaps the glue that holds this particular community together is the Middlefield Community Hub which opened in 2017. “I’ve never come across a community centre that was so active and created such as good impression.” recalls Adaica,
“There seemed to be something going on all the time. From school groups and youth clubs through to organised classes for adults it was a hive of activity. Sitting as it does next to the nursery and containing the Healthy Hoose medical centre, as well as a thriving café, it is a proper community hub.
“When people from out with the Heatheryfold area came to the Hub they picked up on the positive feeling and some would say ‘I’d love to live near this place’.”
Adaica felt the path infrastructure that was part of the Middlefield project made a huge difference to enjoying the site. “You would see parents walking their kids to the centre using the network of paths that were specially created. The paths were sensible, linking communities to bus stops, connecting different parts of the park, and even making access to the local football club (Aberdeen Sunnybank) that bit easier. All in all, they not only improved access through the park but encouraged people to get to know the area.”
Near to the football ground lies a woodland section of the park. Since it was enclosed for dog exercise it has taken on a new lease of life. “The dog area was so popular, it was an inspired idea,” recalls Adaica, “A lot of older folk in the area had dogs, but struggled to give them the exercise they would have liked. The beauty of the dog play area was that folk could take their dog in there and let them off the lead and the dogs could play amongst the trees.”
Having the toddlers play area nearby worked well too. A lot of young families have toddlers and dogs, and it was possible to combine visits to both sections of the park in one visit. Most of the parents have gradually made good use of the benches and tables that encourage families to linger in the park, enjoy a picnic, and spend more time outdoors.
The nature based elements of the park have also proved extremely popular. Adaica takes up the story, “When the Scatterburn, which flows through the park, was opened up this saw the creation of four attenuation areas to reduce flooding downstream of Middlefield. In turn this allowed the creation of a wetland area. Wildflower meadow planting followed, and pretty quickly you got a sense of wildlife being an integral part of the park’s development. The aim of the uncovered burn was to slow the flow of water through the site but adding the wetland planting created a new habitat which the wildlife and community could enjoy.
“I had some fantastic days exploring these areas with school children. It was like an outdoor classroom. All of the potential of the site for nature and education was quickly realised and it was clear that so many elements had been designed with nature in mind.”
Adaica certainly lured visitors in to her community engagement projects. Occasionally she had to think creatively and quickly.
“I worked with the Council’s Family Learning Officers and we set up a John Muir Award scheme around our work. We wanted 8 families to participate but we got 16. It was crazy busy but working with three family learning officers from the nearby schools we made it work. It was all about understanding and connecting with nature, in the park, in the burns and water courses. One of the most enjoyable elements were our nocturnal sessions. We wanted to find the creatures that come out at night and we hit lucky with bats. That was really rewarding. From here we were able to say okay let’s explore our local verges and see what is in our own gardens. Given the financial constraints that can impinge in areas like Middlefield it felt good to highlight things which could be done easily and without cost.”
So, what’s the future for Middlefield Park? “I think there is a strong legacy and strong sense of community,” says Adaica, “There is a clear desire to keep working to improve the area. From my perspective I can see that the park facilities are good and I think the community centre will continue to pay a very important role in ensuring that the site remains welcoming to everyone, and is well used.”
Adaica is a persuasive advocate of the benefits of good green infrastructure. “People were thoroughly engaged, and the park enhanced the sense of community in the area. This kind of project needs to continue. It can be such a boost to health and wellbeing, nature and prospects in places that are suffering from deprivation like Middlefield,” asserts Adaica, “Projects like this bring a sense of hope and of a new beginning. When I left my last week was a whirl of activity. Each day I led a different activity and it was a long, fond farewell but I like to think we all felt connected. Because I was there as an identifiable person and a local presence I think this made a difference over the course of the projects. Having someone on the ground that can deliver that change is so important.”
Variety they say is the spice of life and it sounds like the Green Infrastructure Fund, Middlefield, and Adaica were a perfect blend.
The Green Infrastructure Fund is part of the Scottish Government’s current European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) programme, which runs through to 2023. This is one of two ERDF Strategic Interventions led by NatureScot – the other is the Natural & Cultural Heritage Fund.
You can follow the European Structural Funds blog for ESF activities, news and updates. For twitter updates go to @scotgovESIF or use the hashtags #ERDF and #europeanstructuralfunds