Industry pays tribute to peerless advocate for UK parks and green spaces Alan Barber

Tributes are being paid by the parks world for Alan Barber, the finest campaigner for parks of his generation, who died last week after a long battle with cancer.

Alan Barber - a memorial service will be held in Bristol on March 3 - image: HW
Alan Barber - a memorial service will be held in Bristol on March 3 - image: HW
  • A memorial service will be held in the Music Room, Ashton Court, Bristol on 3 March at 3pm. His family have requested that everyone wear a flower on the day. For more details, or to leave donations to a commemorative legacy, see www.green-space.org.uk. Those attending are asked to email info@green-space.org.uk so the family will know numbers for catering.

Barber's career in the green space sector began with an apprenticeship, a traineeship at Kew and then roles in parks management, culminating in the position of parks manager at Bristol until 1992.

After becoming an independent consultant, Barber went on to develop a distinguished academic record as a Simon research fellow at the University of Manchester, where he taught green space planning. He also taught at the University of Sheffield.

Throughout his career he fought ceaselessly for the plight of parks, which had suffered from decades of spending cuts to be recognised in Government circles as well as their critical importance to people's well-being. His advocacy led to his role of adviser to the commons select committee inquiry into parks and membership of the resulting Urban Green Spaces Task Force, which led in turn to the creation of parks advisory body CABE Space.

He was a chair of the Institute of Leisure & Amenity Management's parks panel and an adviser on green space to the Heritage Lottery Fund, which transformed the desperate state of so many parks through restoration. To protect this investment by raising management standards, he helped found the Urban Parks Forum, now the parks charity GreenSpace.

A major theme in his writing was the political structures that he believed continue to undermine sustained high-level investment in our green spaces, in particular the need for parks to compete with the "host of statutory obligations local authorities have to meet, mostly for far smaller numbers of people".

Barber was a CABE commissioner from 2003 until 2008, when he retired because of ill health. Despite this, he carried on fighting for better parks "because I believe it makes for a better, more prosperous and happier society".

This he did through support for fellow green space professionals, ceaseless lobbying on green space issues, and writing for numerous journals including a column for Horticulture Week.

 

ALAN BARBER REMEMBERED BY COLLEAGUES THROUGHOUT THE INDUSTRY

Steve Smith, head of parks, Oldham Council -

"More than 25 years ago I was present when Alan spoke at a parks conference about the plight of urban parks - it was as near to a religious experience as I am likely to have.

"From then on his advice and guidance was freely given night or day. I owe him so much. Our industry has lost a giant."

Sarah Gaventa, director, CABE Space - "Alan never stopped being on the case. He was the godfather of CABE Space and was both our fiercest critic and greatest supporter. He helped us to grow, he helped us to form the leaders' programme and he was always there for us. He was so well connected around the world and knew so much about what we could learn from other countries."

Sarah Gaventa, chief executive, CABE Space -

Alan never stopped being on the case. He was the godfather of CABE Space and was both our fiercest critic and greatest supporter. He helped us to grow, he helped us to form the leaders' programme and he was always there for us. He was so well connected around the world and knew so much about what we could learn from other countries.

Paul Bramhill, chief executive, GreenSpace -

"The greenspace sector has lost one of its greatest and informed political advocates, and an enthusiast for all that parks and greenspace bring to society.  Latterly Alan was renown as a a one-man policy team combing government sites for opportunities to respond, comment or put forward new thinking to old issues. His contribution to strategic thinking over the last fifteen years has been outstanding and this was recognised in his role as advisor to the 1999 Select Committee to Town and Country Parks, his input to work of the Parks and Green Spaces Task Force, 2002, culminating in his appointment as a green sector Cabe Commissioner a year later. An OBE followed.

But Alan did so much more.  I first met him chairing the Parks, Open Spaces and Countryside Panel for ILAM in the early 90’s when most other organisations were ignoring the demise of parks.  He did so much for the institute to support its parks membership and lead this Panel with intelligence and immense knowledge. He took up positions at the Heritage Lottery Fund advising on greenspace, worked with BALI in judging their landscape awards, and found time to lecture to students at both Manchester and Sheffield universities before he himself did his doctorate subsequently published as Green Futures by GreenSpace. He found time to help numerous parks professionals across the country but had a particular affinity for the area in which he lived, Bristol, and the North West, where he was born.  And this is just a part of his story – for example, I never knew him as a parks manager at Bristol.

Above all Alan loved to help people interested in parks be they students or practitioners.  He corresponded with hundreds of people all over the world and thus developed huge  networks of contacts both nationally and internationally taking full advantage of the internet to share ideas across the globe.  He loved technology and was a keen recorder of visits abroad sharing his pictures of parks with many of us.

I will remember Alan for the way he inspired me through his breadth and depth of knowledge at a key point in my career, his generosity with that knowledge and willingness to help those with parks in their blood, his dry sense of humour, and his insatiable desire to highlight to politicians and decision makers the benefits of quality greenspace.  One of his greatest gifts was to see the best in everyone.  He had great pride in his family and showed immense courage and wit in his last year, despite the appalling spread of cancer, to write, contribute and advocate for parks until virtually his last breath.  As his wife says a wonderful life."

Sid Sullivan, fellow parks consultant -

"Alan was the original 'friend of parks' - supportive yet always critically looking for ways to improve the way they are designed and financed and badgering successive governments to recognise their value.

"Of all of his qualities, the most crucial was his ability to unite disparate groups in the quest to recognise the worth of parks as a civilising and unifying service for communities."

Richard Simmons, chief executive, CABE - "Alan was a brilliant commissioner for CABE and a tireless campaigner for the value of high-quality public spaces. His tenacity and courage were extraordinary. He kept up his campaigning until the end and lost none of his penetrating wisdom and creativity."

Richard Simmonds, chief executive, CABE -

Alan was a brilliant commissioner for CABE and a tireless campaigner for the value of high-quality public spaces. His tenacity and courage were extraordinary. He kepe up his campaigning until the end and lost none of his penetrating wisdom and creativity.

Ken Worpole, Professor at The Cities Unit, London Metropolitan University -

I first met Alan Barber in early 1993, when Liz Greenhalgh and I were putting together the Comedia/Demos research project which culminated in the report, Park Life: Urban Parks & Social Renewal (1995).

Once we started a preliminary round of interviews with local authority officers, park managers, landscape historians, and others, one name, and one name only recurred in every conversation.  'You must talk to Alan Barber, ­ he knows everything.'  And he did. We met him in London, and within two weeks of commission, he produced the first of our external working papers: Law, Money & Management (November 1993).  Alan's sound common sense, grounded in his deep legal and historical knowledge, gave us the confidence to push on.

Alan had every right to resent a couple of metropolitan outsiders treading on his patch. Far from it. Alan welcomed anybody and everybody of goodwill to the cause of the public park which he made his lifetime's work ­ and we are all so much better for it.

One of Alan's pre-occupations was the need for good research (along with an agency dedicated to the advocacy of public parks in Britain). He always used to say that if only 1% of all parks spending was allocated to research, it would enable the better expenditure of the other 99%. Alas, he noted in his working paper that the Garden of Eden contained two people appeared to be the only recorded statistic for a public park. Well, thanks to Alan's tireless commitment, we now have CABE Space and all the wonderful research it has done, and the evidential basis for park use and public value is now well established.

In a lifetime's work in public policy I have never met a figure who so quietly and determinedly dominated his or her field, and yet was so modest about their achievements.  His passionate advocacy will be missed terribly, though he has left an extraordinary legacy on which to build.

Judy Cligman - Director of strategy and business development, Heritage Lottery Fund

Alan Barber played an influential role in the early days of HLF's Urban Parks Programme (later Parks for People), which has awarded over £525 million to more than 500 projects since 1996, playing a vital role in the renaissance of public parks in the UK.

Alan was a member of the Parks Advisory Panel chaired by Professor Brunskill, which contributed hugely to the success of this highly popular grants programme, by establishing guidance for applicants and advising on cases. Alan continued to provide HLF with authoritative and well judged advice as a member of the Historic Buildings and Land Panel until December 2000. He will be sadly missed by all at HLF.

Michael Rowan - Director of Mile End Park, LB of Tower Hamlets

In the late 1990s, at a meeting where we were trying to set up the Urban Parks Forum (later to become GreenSpace), several of us, young, keen and eager, were anxious to get things up and running. Alan stayed quiet and thoughtful and when we had finished pointed out several things that we hadn’t even thought of, and without ever appearing to do so, guided us towards the goal we were seeking. Without Alan we would have had no chance of becoming the organisation that it finally became.
 
But it was Alan’s indomitable sense of humour that I will remember. A year or two ago I chaired a conference in Bristol. In the audience was Alan and at coffee time he came up to say hello. "In the beginning," Alan said, "when it was first thought up that you chair every GreenSpace Conference I had my doubts, but you have made a good show of it."  "Oh Alan you old smooth talker you," I said with due deference.  Quick as a flash Alan replied, "What I really meant was that in the beginning you were crap!" When I looked up I saw that familiar twinkle in his eyes and we both burst out laughing.
 
I am pretty sure that the he is now going through the ground's maintenance contract for the Garden of Eden with a fine tooth comb and a gimlet eye!


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