Park life

Emerira crouched down attending to some plants in a park

A day in the life of community ranger Eremira Aruqaj, and the importance of getting outside and connecting with your community

How did you get into your role as a community ranger?

I have been working in the Islington parks department for nearly ten years now. I started out as an apprentice gardener, and worked my way through to grounds maintenance gardener, then heritage ranger at Caledonian Park. Now I’m a community ranger.

What does a community ranger do?

It involves organising and running volunteer sessions, supporting our Friends of Parks, and working with other services such as the anti-social behaviour and community safety teams. I also organise events to encourage people to visit our parks, as well as help with any improvements and day-to-day parks management.

I love my job, it’s so varied. I get to meet and work with such a diverse range of people. It’s great to see people becoming more confident with their gardening skills and being more active in the community. I grew up on a council estate in Islington – I love working in the area, contributing to the community and improving our greenspaces.

Describe a typical day at work.

Every day is different! I cycle in, often stopping to chat to the dog walkers who will tell me what’s been happening in the park and raise any issues. I’m often the first in the office, which is right in the middle of the park and has an area where the local street sweepers store their equipment. They’re in super early and it’s always nice to have a catch up with them. They’re on the frontline of the community and work hard keeping the streets looking nice and clean.

If I have a volunteer session, I’ll pack the electric cargo bike with whatever equipment I need for the day and set off. Our volunteers range from men who are part of The Men’s Shed, a social group for older men; adults with learning disabilities who attend Mencap groups; school groups and young adults; to local residents who enjoy contributing to their local area – so a really broad range of people.

I currently have some girls from a local secondary school on work experience placements, which is great. They’re so enthusiastic and it’s great to have women and girls being interested in this type of work.

A lot of my work involves risk assessments and health and safety talks. There are some sharp implements used in gardening and we have to make sure our volunteers are trained in how to use them! I also complete safety checks before any type of session or activity starts.

I have to be super organised and pretty active, but I love being out and about among nature and engaging with the local community.

Why do you think people enjoy volunteering in their local park?

Parks are so important for our mental and physical health. There is a lot more research proving that now – that we need to be out and about in nature. Parks can provide space and time for people who are having a difficult time. Being outside, gardening, growing and nurturing plants alongside people who you don’t necessarily know very well, seems to create an atmosphere where people feel able to talk. I suppose I’m chatty too, so that helps! I’ve had people talk about bereavement, being lonely and isolated – I think focussing on something practical can help people to open up. It can be very therapeutic. Also just hearing the birds, seeing the bees and butterflies is so nice!

As it’s Love Parks Week, we have to ask… what’s your favourite park in Islington?

That’s too hard! We’re lucky to have some amazing parks. If I had to say, it would be between Gillespie Park, New River Walk and St John’s Garden. You’d never know you’re in London.



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