GB No. 4(19)/95
In December 1993 an application form for TEMPUS pilot projects drifted into the CEED (Community Environmental Educational Developments, an environmental charity based at the University of Sunderland in the UK) office. For some time previously, CEED had been involved in separate projects involving central Europe (specifically Poland) and environmental conservation and education using Urban Nature Spaces (UNS). Here was an organisation offering money for combining the two. We should have known it was too good to be true...
The application had to be at the TEMPUS office in Brussels by January 16th 1994 for the project to commence in June 1994, which meant that we had to move very quickly indeed if we were to have any hope of running the project that year. CEED's extensive contacts in Poland were contacted and asked to participate in the anticipated project, which was to train unemployed graduates in the construction and maintenance of UNS's. We felt that this was a novel project as, during many previous visits to Poland, we had not seen any such sites although they are quite common in the UK. UNS's can be used for a variety of purposes, the main one being educational (both formal and informal), but also for nature conservation and to provide a focus for community activities, all of which would feature in the training course.
After a burst of frenetic communication activity which must have contributed enormously to British Telecom's profits, we had a team of organisations from both Poland and the UK. As well as CEED, the actual contractor to TEMPUS was to be the University of Sunderland, with World Wildlife Fund UK, British Trust for Conservation Volunteers, Argus Ecological Services, Grangetown Primary Services and Sunderland City Council Countryside Team. In Poland there was Miedzyuczelniane Ko3o Naukowe Ochrony Orodowiska (MKNOS), Fundacja Wspierania Inicjatyw Ekologicznych (FWIE) Akademia Rolnicza (AR) and Zielone Brygady (ZB). Due to the short time available for the application to be completed, we had to spend most of our time not explaining the project but reassuring the partners that "it would all be OK" even though we felt, at times, that things were going disastrously wrong.The application was sent in on time, but was (fortunately, as it turned out) refused. TEMPUS is an exceedingly autocratic institution and does not explain itself at all (of which, more further). It was only after close re-examination of the application that we found flaws in the financial estimates which would have caused us extreme problems if the project had run. We also had some further discussions with the partners who were still not really sure what we were doing. Fortunately, we were able to establish communication with the Polish TEMPUS office and gather the information that they thought that it was a very interesting project and we should resubmit the (suitably modified) application, so we did so. This was in August 1994, for the project to run from Jan 1st 1995 to August 31st 1995 (maximum length).
In early November 1995 we finally managed to contact the TEMPUS office by telephone after many weeks of trying. They told us that part of the office was in the process of moving to Turin from Brussels and there was a problem with the flow of information. They could, however, tell us that we had been successful in our application. Much joy and falling off office chairs ensued. They told us that confirmation and the money would follow shortly. We immediately contacted all our partners and told them the good news and began to make plans for beginning the project. And waited. And waited. And waited... We were beginning to get good at this waiting business.
In the middle of January, a contract arrived which mentioned a grant of approximately three quarters of the amount we had applied for. TEMPUS regulations require that one half of EU costs and one quarter of non EU costs are met from other funding sources, but we had made that allowance in our application. We needed to know if the reduced funding had been made because we had applied for something which was not allowed or was just a cut across the board. After much telephoning, we were told that we could not be told why the grant was less than asked for. We were told that if it was the case that something which was not allowed had been removed from the budget, then we should not spend money on that thing. When we asked how we would know we were spending money on something which was not allowed, we were told we could not be told. We still have not solved this paradox. In the meantime, as the University of Sunderland was the direct contractor to TEMPUS and CEED merely the facilitator of the project, we began spending money and invoicing the University. The money itself finally arrived at the University in July 1995, one month before the project was due to finish.To begin our project we needed two things. Some people to train and a site in Poland to construct; the idea being that the skills taught about UNS creation would be transferable to Poland and the best way to start would be to build one. This site could then be used to carry on training inside Poland without the problems and expense of moving people around Europe.
We arranged to travel to Kraków in late March 1995 to interview applicants for places on the training courses and try to obtain a site for the project. There was success in both endeavours! We had ten participants, two leaders and a two hectare site on the land of the old Solway Soda Factory. In the process we acquired a new partner, Agencja Rozwoju Regionalnego Krakowie (Kraków Regional Redevelopment Agency) We also managed to get across (we thought) to our Polish partners more or less exactly what this project was all about and how important it was to the environmental movement in Central Europe. All that remained now was to do it...
Lickety split back to the UK and to begin preparing the taught course. We were lucky in that many of the UK partners were highly capable of presenting both theoretical and practical courses. There were more communication problems, this time with our partners in Poland. It eventually transpired that there had been many problems in Poland, especially with the participants getting time off from various obligations such as school and university to go to the UK. We had been unable to run the project in one session during the summer and had to have one leg in the UK in June and the other in Poland in August with a month in between for further organisation. In the end, not all of our original choices could get to the UK in June and others had to take their places. Even so, we never had a complete set of participants and leaders in the UK as people came to Sunderland and went back to Poland to fulfill previous obligations.
The course in the UK had two distinct phases. First of all there was a theoretical side which aimed to give a good knowledge of the history of urban wildlife conservation, the ecology of urban nature spaces and their management and other necessary skills such as first-aid. Secondly, there was a practical side which taught, by task, the hands-on skills required. Although both parts contained much in the way of new concepts and hard work, all the leaders were very impressed at how hard the participants worked and managed to grasp new ideas. Some leaders were even more impressed at how hard the participants were able to conduct the social side of their stay in the UK!
We then had a month to finally organise the Polish side of the project. This was done and on the first Monday in August work began on the site at the Solway soda works south of Kraków. CEED used the facilities of the University at Sunderland to the full. This included the in-house travel agency, which managed to make the English leaders travelling to Kraków go via Brussels and Warszawa! The first week was spent surveying the site ecologically and planning the features desired. Unfortunately, since the site had been last seen in March ‘95 there had been a substantial amount of tipping of waste which had covered a lot of the natural features. Fortunately, this had been capped with soil and, in addition, a substantial hole had been dug which had subsequently filled with water - we had a ready-made pond!
It is probably best to gloss over the vast range of problems we dealt with during the rest of this period and to concentrate on the fact that we did deal with them in the ensuing three weeks. Although it is impossible to create a UNS overnight so that it is fully formed, there is now present at the Solway site a useable environmental tool for the local community and environmental educators to use. In future years it will mature and become a base for training participants in similar projects based in Poland. It can also become an island of Poland's environmental heritage as the area around it is inexorably changed through time. The participants named it "Ogródek Pod Rurami" after the pipes which overhang the site from the waste lagoons.
The moral of this tale? Maybe it could be something brave and forceful, like "Who dares wins". Maybe it could be something more subtle. Whatever, it has shown that things are possible which at first seem impossible if enough people can commit themselves deeply.
University of Sunderland
St. George's Way