Industry Preview 2010: Parks -- Innovation and community engagement key as parks prepare for cuts

Increased innovation and engagement with communities will typify 2010 for the parks community as green space managers struggle with ever-decreasing budgets.

As a non-statutory service, parks will have to work even harder to convince those holding the purse strings of the need for proper investment and management.

GreenSpace chief executive Paul Bramhill warned: "It's very likely we'll see more cuts as local authorities try to re-adjust budgets. But this is possibly going to be the good year in terms of the future. It may not seem like making hay in 2010, but lots of people are saying 2011 will be worse."

Although Bury Council parks and countryside manager Mike Bent's service has not yet been badly affected by cuts, he believes that there is gloom to come.

"Although this year will not be as bad as 2011, it will still be difficult because the government is taking money back to fill the void left by the economic crisis," he explained. "In times of struggle, people will always look at the basic services, and in some cases parks are still seen as an extravagance."

London Parks & Green Spaces Forum director Tony Leach said reports from parks managers across the country showed that many were already preparing for cuts in the 2010/11 financial year. "But in the following years cuts will be more severe," he predicted.

The need to prove the value of green spaces in terms of environment, health and economics will be a challenge as "real and great as ever", according to CABE Space head of public space Peter Neal.

But he argued that the next three months would be particularly critical in following the manifesto pledges of the three main political parties in the run up to the election, especially in terms of commitments to the envi-ronment and climate change. "Potential new leadership will bring new energy, challenges and opportunities," he added.

"It will be interesting to see how the localism agenda is played out in the manifestos. If local communities are more empowered to make decisions, that could play favourably for parks and green spaces."

Bramhill agreed: "I detect there will be a greater emphasis on communities and local authorities will probably be asked to look at things such as handing over community assets."

Parks consultant Sid Sullivan suggested that the biggest change ahead would be that parks services would be "forced to amalgamate". He predicted: "They will be looking at the private sector model and across local authority boundaries."

Lateral thinking will be a critical skill for parks managers in the years ahead, believed London Borough of Tower Hamlets manager for Mile End Park Mike Rowan.

He already cashes in on volunteering and employers seeking team-building days out in his park and recently attracted several thousand pounds from the private sector to create a kitchen garden and cooking facilities.

"It will be hard times ahead and everyone in parks will have to batten down the hatches, but we need to grasp opportunities," he maintained. "Sponsorship will be more difficult to get but it will be more important to chase it down. We'll be doing things like dividing out plants to fill our beds and using volunteer labour for digging."

The interest in food growing will continue after the boom in 2009 and parks managers will need to find new ways of addressing saturated allotment waiting lists. Bent told HW that in Bury the idea of community growing spaces rather than fenced and locked allotments was gaining ground as demand burgeoned.

"Community growing spaces run by local groups can attract external funding," he reasoned. "We have struggled to get funding in allotments for a number of years because they are not like a park that provides value for a wide range of people in the area."

 

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