Numbers matter for parks management

Last month, Leeds City Council's parks team swept the board at the Horticulture Week Landscape and Amenity Awards thanks, among other things, to a commitment to carrying out detailed research into how its parks and facilities are being used by the city's residents.

The data, which shows that Leeds' parks attract 60 million visits from residents every year and highlight performance issues, enables the team to quantify its achievements, plan improvements and make judgements about where best to use its resources in future years. According to the parks team, the use of this information has been key to many successful funding bids, including the attraction of £4.5m for improvements to community parks.

So there could be fewer people better than the outgoing head of parks at Leeds, Denise Preston, to put the case, at last week's GreenSpace conference, for better use of statistics by parks teams across the board - alongside some improved advocacy skills - to win the funding that many desperately need (p6).

Parks services had a "massive" contribution to make towards government health and well-being targets, she said, but failed to hit the top of the agenda because they were not able to say what users wanted and couldn't provide unit costs and visitor numbers.

Of course, for many small-scale parks operations, finding the necessary resources to carry out the kind of research Leeds has done can prove an overwhelming task in itself, making the need for data-gathering at a national level critical.

Step forward land-based skills body Lantra and green space advocate CABE Space, which are promising to address the lack of national data with a survey that will include the amount and type of green space looked after by local authorities and contractors in the UK, as well as build a picture of personnel issues through data on recruitment, productivity and staff turnover. As Lantra's David Winn has said, we need to know the scope of the UK's maintained parks and green spaces and how many people use them so we can say to the Government: "This is the size of the industry, this is what it's responsible for" - and start to build the case for better funding.


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