Putting Sorrel Park On The Map

The recent Fun Day at Sorrel Park was very successful, bringing together a broad range of local community and sports groups, plus live music and even Morris dancing to present a great afternoon’s entertainment. It celebrated the Friends of Sorrel Park’s first year, so here is a review of the group’s activities and achievements so far.

Until recently, Sorrel Park was an unknown and neglected place, especially after an illegal rave during lockdown left it in a shocking state. Mention the park and folks still ask "Where is it?" Concerned residents got together in May 2021 to form the Friends of Sorrel Park (FoSP) group, led by founder members Helen Skidmore (Chair) and Anne Hillman-Churcher (Secretary). Valuable guidance on the formalities of setting up came from Sarah Royal of the Birmingham Open Spaces Forum and Mike Westley created its excellent website, also providing expertise as Treasurer.

The group soon claimed overdue listings for Sorrel Park in the directories of the City Council and Birmingham Open Spaces Forum. Helen has overseen a busy year, through which the group actively engaged with the local community in many activities and projects. It started well; “Our launch event in June was great!" said Helen. "We joined up with Erdy Cuppa to promote our group and wanted to find out what park users would like to see happening there”.

The community’s feedback confirmed the general opinion of the park being neglected, so the group drew up plans accordingly. Effective liaison with the City Council won funding to improve the park’s facilities, and Park Ranger Danny Squire has proved a great ally. He has assisted with park surveys, maintenance of its green space, the playground and park furniture, as well as facilitating several events and activities. “The group has come a long way”, he says.

As Committee member Clifton Welch observes, the social aspect of volunteering is important to them. “We have had some fun as well as working hard, making it a lovely group to be part of”. Member Ryan James Pemberton added: “The first Sorrel Park event was the beginning of a positive movement, and it also provided me with a way to be meeting and making some new friends along the way”.

Nurturing and appreciating the park’s wildlife is a priority. Anne teamed up last September with the 215th Brownies from St Mary’s Church to create a bug hotel, and Danny led the group on a nocturnal bat encounter. He provided bat detector devices and expert commentary as the tiny flying mammals were tracked around their canal-side territory. You can’t hear the UHF sonic signals of bats, and their flight speed makes them almost impossible to follow by eye, but our hand-held gizmos gave us great insight.

A “mini-Bio-Blitz” in autumn logged dozens of species in the park, including the rare Nigma Puella (“bleeding heart”) spider. In November, the group undertook a conservation project to coppice the hazel and then construct a “dead hedge” to foster wildlife. We were greatly aided by the guidance and tools from Park Ranger Danny. In December, the Sorrel Park group raised funds at the Christmas Fayre hosted by St. Mary’s Church, and also had tree planting sessions with saplings provided by The Woodland Trust

Spring family fun events included a “sunflower stones trail” and an Easter egg treasure hunt, providing more than enough chocolate for all! One of Helen’s “specialist subjects” prompted participation in the RSPB’s National Bird Watch. Anne joined her to experience the park’s Dawn Chorus and described their very early morning serenading by dozens of birds as ‘fascinating’.

Since February, there have been weekly Tai Chi session in the park, and the Recovery Foundation provided an excellent Art In The Park course in May.

Joining the adjacent Elim Church’s friendly coffee morning group rounds off our monthly litter-picking sessions. Invaluable support came from Elim’s Pastor Eddie Lawrence and Christine Wightman in the group’s planning for their Fun Day on June 25th, as everyone helped to make the event a big success, The local community turned out in force to enjoy all the midsummer fun, with good food, games, music and dancing.

It was the group’s anniversary event, featuring sports and games activities courtesy of Erdington Rugby Club, its partner Erdington Cricket Club and Urban Devotion that also celebrated Birmingham’s hosting of the Commonwealth Games in July.

Looking ahead, FoSP’s grant from the Celebrating Communities fund will provide outdoor gym equipment. Helen says “We are working with the Parks service on a development plan for Sorrel Park”. Taking into account this first-year review, Sorrel Park is now surely on the map!

The group is on Facebook and their website is at www.friendsofsorrelpark.org

David Mortimer June 2022.