Lottery grants create 1,000 volunteer places in parks

Around 1,000 training and volunteering places have been created through the latest round of grants in the Heritage Lottery Fund and Big Lottery Fund Parks for People programme.

The £14m grants - awarded to eight parks across the UK - include provision for increased volunteering and training in activities including garden design, planting and habitat creation.

Parks consultants have welcomed the move but agree that volunteers should not become a substitute for fully skilled, paid parks staff.

Parks Agency director Stewart Harding said: "It is fantastic to be getting all those people involved and will really help raise awareness of the opportunities in parks.

"But it shouldn't detract from the need to get more professional, paid staff. There is still a crying need to get more people skilled in horticulture and green spaces."

Ivison Consulting director Bob Ivison agreed: "Having the right level of professional, skilled management and technical staff is very important but the engagement of volunteers and the community at large is becoming more critical because of the need to better re-flect what the community wants."

A £3.9m grant to Lichfield's Beacon Park will create 220 volunteering opportunities, while Sunderland's Barnes Park will need 100 volunteers to help with clearance and bulb planting.

Proposals for Coventry's War Memorial Park include an extensive plan for volunteer involvement, with people helping with the gardening and collecting personal histories of World War One for a website and exhibition. People with special needs will receive nationally recognised training and qualifications in horticultural skills.

Big Lottery Fund chairman Sir Clive Booth added: "Not only will today's funding help to safeguard these precious green spaces and the environment for future generations, but the volunteering oppor-tunities created will be valuable, especially at a time when increasing numbers of people are finding themselves unemployed.

"While volunteering does not replace paid employment, it does help by increasing self-esteem and providing people's lives with structure and learning opportunities."

Ivison added: "The (green space) sector as a whole has not been very good at selling the advantages of being involved in outdoor activities or being part of the management structure. We need the community input."

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