Interview: Warren Koehler

The regional director of Kids London tells Femke Colborne about the challenges of having three groups help out on a project

Warren Koehler
Warren Koehler

Kids is a national charity that provides services for children and young people with disabilities. It runs four adventure playgrounds in London, and earlier this year it received an £80,000 grant from Help a Capital Child to replace an ageing walkway at its Lady Allen playground on Wandsworth Common.

Kids has a long-standing relationship with Splash Projects, a company run by former service personnel that provides volunteering and corporate social responsibility opportunities.

When Splash contacted the charity to say it had 500 volunteers from the bank RBS waiting to get their hands dirty, Warren Koehler, regional director for Kids London, jumped at the chance to involve them in the Lady Allen project. "We did a presentation to RBS about the project and they loved it," he says.

The refurbishment began in early April and was completed at the end of July. Koehler oversaw the management of the project, but two on-site managers - one from Splash and one from Kids - were also appointed to oversee the day-to-day running of the site.

Between 40 and 50 volunteers worked on the playground every day, doing everything from demolishing the old walkway and shovelling sand to major structural work. They worked in teams of 10, each managed by an engineer provided by Splash.

Because RBS provided more volunteers than Kids had expected, the charity was also able to refurbish other areas of the playground and add an extra treehouse, a sandpit and an extra platform. But the large number of volunteers also brought some management challenges: the volunteers were briefed at the start of each day about the kinds of children who would be using the playground, but the message did not get through as well as the charity had hoped.

"When we were describing a certain type of play, for example, the volunteers often didn't know what we meant by it," says Koehler. "It might have been better to have made it clear for everyone together with a large one-day meeting at the beginning, instead of doing it in small groups, so that everyone had a common understanding of what play meant."

Another challenge was marrying the different cultures of the three organisations involved in the project. "Splash is a very organised, regimented organisation with an army background," says Koehler. "It is very good at getting things done.

"People from RBS are used to a corporate background where there are a number of different processes for decision-making, whereas at Kids we can make decisions very quickly and delegate responsibility.

"RBS is used to things going higher up for final sign-off, and that caused some delays.

"Help a Capital Child wanted detailed reports, and it was a challenge trying to manage different processes to achieve the right timescale," he adds. "Splash was not used to that bureaucracy and we had to explain the process to it."

Nevertheless, Koehler says that the project was a success, and the charity is hoping to repeat it in the near future.

"We would certainly do it again," he says. "Everyone was extremely pleased with the outcome and the volunteers walked away with huge satisfaction with what they had achieved."

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