Key pointers for parks managers of the future

Data, finance and people skills all vital, advises outgoing director of open spaces.

Ireland: has spent her entire career in public service
Ireland: has spent her entire career in public service

Parks managers of the future will need to be good with data, good with finance and even better with people, former City of London Corporation (CoL) director of open spaces, Sue Ireland has said.

The lifelong public servant, who left the CoL, and her 38-year career in parks, on Tuesday, says "data and financial management are crucial" to succeeding in a top parks role. "You need to be able to manage money and have a very good understanding of what you are spending your money on. If you don't know how much you're spending, you don't know if you get value for money. There are ways to value landscapes. We, as a sector, need to embrace them."

Ireland has spent her whole career in public service, after deciding to follow a passion to look after large landscapes. She has been in charge of the CoL's 4,452ha of open space, including Hampstead Heath, Burnham Beaches and Epping Forest, as well as green spaces within the square mile, for nine years. Highlights of her time include improving Epping Forest, creating the UK's first invisible fencing system in Epping Forest and Burnham Beeches, the "very important" task of getting the ancient CoL land registered with the Land Registry and raising some £170,000 for Wanstead flats by renting it temporarily to the Metropolitan Police to use during the London Olympics.

Before that she won plaudits during 10 years as director of parks and heritage services at Chelmsford Borough Council, where she organised the two-week World Scout Jamboree for the organisation's centenary, oversaw a successful funding bid and restoration of Hyland Estate and brought V Festival to Chelmsford.

She refuses to describe her move as retirement, instead preferring the Spanish translation - "jubilacion" - because it sounds like a celebration.

Look further for inspiration

A school governor in Barnet, she says parks managers should look outside of their sector for inspiration. "Be prepared to learn from other sectors. Schools are a good exemplar. You watch how good schoolteachers teach. There's a lot you can learn from that."

But internal networks are also important, says Ireland. Parks professionals should support those out there, such as The Parks Alliance and Parks for London in the capital, she adds. "Get involved. Don't wait to be asked."

Understanding nature and people are equally important, and good people skills, which have helped her to work through some of her biggest challenges towards some of her greatest achievements, will be crucial to the future parks manager, says Ireland. "Working with people, taking the time to think and plan properly and think strategically" are all key skills, she says.

"We are very lucky here. We don't have the challenges that local authorities have. But I have a great team. You can't do it all yourself. It's about the people you work with and empower them and trust in them." She identifies the biggest challenge for her successor, Colin Buttery, as densification - the increasing population of London. "Air quality and sustainable drainage are going to become crucial," she says. "Our green spaces are going to become more important."

CV - Sue Ireland's career details

1978 Graduated in geography, Aberystwyth, University of Wales.

1979 Completed masters degree in landscape ecology, design and maintenance at Wye College, University of London.

1979 Began work as a technical assistant at Ashford Borough Council, promoted to technical officer then public rights of way officer.

1982 Started work as a technical officer at Chelmsford Borough Council, promoted through leisure services.

1998 Appointed as director of parks and heritage services at Chelmsford Borough Council.

2008 Appointed director of open spaces at the City of London Corporation.

February 2017 "Jubilacion" (retires).

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