Last week the first of a series of crowdfunding awareness-raisers was held in Manchester as part of the #crowdfundmy park2017 campaign started by charity Growing a Greener Britain (GGB) and contractor idverde. Sector representatives including GGB trustee Rob Pearce and Green-tech marketing manager Kate Humes are touring the UK giving talks to an audience of community groups, businesses and third-sector organisations to encourage them to launch green-space crowdfunding projects.
GGB was itself established by The Landscape Group - now part of idverde - and crowdfunding platform Spacehive last year with a £50,000 endowment and is an independent charity. But what benefits are there for contractors getting involved in crowdfunding?
The ideal choice
Pearce, who is also head of corporate projects at idverde, says crowdfunding seemed like the ideal choice for The Landscape Group after it decided that it wanted to set up a vehicle for funding community projects.
"We found it hard to find suitable projects to fund in the beginning - and how do we know that these projects are wanted by the community? I found crowdfunding and a third of the projects were about green space. Clearly they have support from the community around that park and green space. We can make our money go further, which ticked another box.
"The whole concept of crowdfunding is it gets new people involved. Crowdfunding isn't a panacea, projects are typically between £5,000 and £25,000. What it should do is raise the profile of parks and show that they can be vibrant. They are projects that bring people together with all different organisations to improve their spaces. If a number of stakeholders have an interest in an outcome, it builds momentum. Everyone can come together and they can contribute."
Crowdfunding has been something of a buzzword over the past few years, with horticultural campaigns ranging from a study into the DNA of Aloe at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew that had a target of £7,000 but raised nearer £10,000, to a project to create a the Peckham Coal Line, a UK version of the New York High Line, that also smashed its £64,132 target with £75,157 having been pledged so far.
Now increasing numbers of local authorities are getting their own crowdfunding accounts to encourage fundraising locally. Spacehive, a crowdfunding platform that specialises in projects aimed at improving local civic and community spaces, has 84 local authorities signed up. In total they have pledged to 154 projects, 28 of which are campaigns to improve green space. Green space projects - parks, gardens and food and farming - make up around a fifth of all Spacehive campaigns.
"Green space campaigns have a 52 per cent success rate (our platform average) on Spacehive. This is significantly higher than other platforms where less than a third of projects hit their target," says Spacehive content marketing manager Aaron O'Dowling-Keane, who also points out that Spacehive expects more local authorities to come on board in 2017.
"This can be attributed to a number of factors - people are more likely to support projects in their local communities that everyone can use, our all-or-nothing funding model that motivates people to hit their set target and the £1m in additional funding from our partners."
A successful campaign has to have clear start and end dates, says O'Dowling-Keane. Crowdfunding does not work, in terms of sustaining ongoing costs. Therefore crowdfunding is very good for events or infrastructure or special projects in terms of planting, she adds.
A good example is Heroes Wood, a Trees for Cities-led project to plant a World War One centenary woodland of 100 large English oak and hazel trees in Manchester to commemorate the involvement of Mancunians in the conflict. Local schools and residents are involved in the project, which reached its £51,609 target in December.
"Stuff like that is really powerful," says O'Dowling-Keane. "We also see successful campaigns for street cleans and pocket gardens. Very small things can make a real difference." As each campaign is achieved, Spacehive has another case study.
Future Cities Catapults, a company that runs an ideas laboratory for innovations, is also bringing out a civic crowdfunding guidebook for councils in March. "This is becoming more mainstream. The whole aim of this is to make it a very easy way for councils to engage communities," O'Dowling-Keane says. She adds that many councils wanted to focus pots of funding on green space, citing the mayor of London's funding, Manchester City Council's green and blue-space funding and Essex County Council's flood alleviation fund as examples.
"They are looking for greater leverage for the projects they are interested in supporting. Crowdfunding is more accessible than form-filling. It attracts people who have a computer and an idea. For contractors it's a good opportunity to be part of this bigger ecosystem."
O'Dowling-Keane says that so far Veolia, idverde and not-for-profit organisation GLL have become involved. "Veolia are trying to promote more recycling and green-space materials, so they're offering reclaimed materials for things such as man shed programmes. GLL is interested in anything that brings a community together such as adventure playgrounds in London. Green space is a really powerful place to bring communities together."
One useful perk of being a corporate Spacehive funder is that the platform supplies impact reports three months after a campaign hits its target. These can be used by contractors in marketing or form part of a tender bid. The report includes information such as how many volunteers got involved and how many jobs were created.
"The reason contractors will be doing this is they want to build a relationship with local authorities and communities. It's a lead gen exercise for them, showing the impact they can have and are having above their competitors."
Spacehive is also seeing property developers getting in on the action. Companies such as Lendlease, for example, are well aware of the power of green space in their developments. O'Dowling-Keane says they use crowdfunding to build a sense of community around new estates, which both makes the spaces better and makes the properties worth more.
Corporate sponsors need not only just give money. They can also supply volunteers, skills, places and equipment, meaning that the project does not need to spend that money from the funding that is raised.
Landscape materials supplier Green-tech has donated just under £150 of materials so far to two successful crowdfunding campaigns. It has set aside £1,500 in goods for GGB projects in 2017. "The fit is perfect. The crowdfunding platform is the mechanism that makes these ideas and beliefs real, and gives the community ownership of this process," says marketing manager Kate Humes.
"From a business point of view, corporate social responsibility features high on our agenda. We are keen to see people out there developing spaces and taking an interest in landscaping and horticulture. Richard Kay (Green-tech chairman) has always been quite vocal about encouraging more youth into the industry and he views this as another method for encouraging the next generation to get inspired by the industry.
"We are one of the few businesses in the industry that can supply consumables to projects right across the UK, so we fit with the national element of the initiative. We were also keen to raise awareness of the professional/trade element of the landscape industry to the public. Also, Green-tech provides a wealth of professional products and solutions that are not necessarily found in your local garden centre that the general public may not be aware of."
Ground Control is another contractor interested in crowdfunding, although managing director Marcus Watson says at first the firm was unsure whether the movement would have a real impact or was just "a fashionable thing to talk about". He adds: "I see that it would be a useful thing to explore in order to get some community involvement and funding to deliver community projects, such as working with corporate volunteers to turn a bad playground into a good playground."
Both Ground Control and Green-tech see crowdfunding as a way of continuing work they have already been doing for some time. "There's not a winter that goes by that we are not raising money for a charity or greening spaces for a customer," says Watson.
For Pearce there is another reason for professionals to support crowdfunding. "If we look at the evidence in the State of UK Public Parks report we are coming to a tipping point. That investment made into parks takes a long time to degrade. At the same time people's use, support and interest in parks has risen. At some point these things will meet, where people will suddenly realise this is getting difficult. The money for keeping them maintained is always going to be taxpayer money. There's that tipping point coming where the cuts will eventually start to bite quite visibly.
"We want to create as much noise as possible about parks - more noise, more people involved and more projects. We hope that will raise the profile of parks and will get more people involved in parks, and deliver a whole range of smaller projects that will keep parks vibrant even at a time when we can see budgets being cut."
Campaign - Crowdfunding opportunities to generate investment for parks
The charity Growing a Greener Britain (GGB) has started a #crowdfundmypark2017 campaign to promote the opportunities to gain investment in parks provided by crowdfunding.
The GGB website enables local people, friends groups, local businesses, funding bodies and public agencies to come together to fund community-led projects in green spaces. Projects that crowdfund using GGB can also access small grants from the charity as well as in-kind support from industry suppliers Green-tech and Stihl.
Projects funded so far
Heroes Wood World War One centenary woodland project in Manchester. Target: £51,650.
Seeing the Wood for the Trees forest school in London. Target: £20,903. GGB donated £1,000. Stihl provided £203 in-kind support and Green-tech £79 in-kind support.
Transforming Green Grosvenor Park enhancement project. Target: £14,855. GGB donated £500.
The GGB platform has generated £297,966 to date with 23 successful projects and 2,647 backers.