Parks departments lead way in repurposing land

Finding efficiency savings and serving your community need not be mutually exclusive, as some parks departments are demonstrating by repurposing land.

Bowling greens: popular choice for transforming space - image: Morguefile
Bowling greens: popular choice for transforming space - image: Morguefile

Bowling greens are popular as transformative spaces because they are expensive to maintain and not as popular as they once were.

Edinburgh City Council used to have 15 greens and has kept eight following public consultations and a change process. The parks department consulted bowling clubs in 2014 to see which spaces were most used, followed by a wider consultation to see what residents wanted more of in the city.

The most recent transformation, a 16-allotment site, opened in August, with residents who had spent years on the waiting list pleased to get plots.

Neighbouring Trinity Academy school also has one. The parks department spent £50,000 on the project but after the initial capital outlay the site will require minimal maintenance and will bring in plot rental income, explained head of parks, cemeteries and green space David Jamieson.

"Cost was one of the key drivers. Bowling greens cost a lot to maintain because of the fine turf - £6,000 a year each. We recognised they weren't being used as much as they used to be. There's a huge demand for food growing and allotments." Other bowling greens in the city were turned into other sports areas, including petanque, and in one case an amenity green next to a school that previously only had a Tarmac play area.

Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) parks policy adviser Shaun Kiddell, who has so far inspected 211 HLF-funded parks, said: "Bowling greens are expensive to maintain so have been an obvious casualty of local authority cuts right across the country. Brighton's Preston Park has turned several of theirs into the most spectacular flower meadow. In Titchfield Park in Mansfield they have turned the former green into a petanque or boule area. Newcastle's Leazes Park have turned theirs into a new picnic area."

Kiddell said food growing has also taken over many redundant areas in parks, such as former council bedding plant nurseries. Good examples include Brockwell Park, Myatts Field's, Wandle Park and Waterlow Park in London as well as Nottingham's Forest Recreation Ground.

Cost pressures were also the inspiration for Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council green spaces team leader Liz Stuffins to find a new use for a walled garden with a National Collection of ceanothus after the collection suffered in a bad frost.

Growing in the Park started in April 2014 in partnership with Dudley Mind and is tended by volunteers. This year the group refurbished derelict glasshouses, raising £500 from Waitrose, £8,000 from the Tesco Bags of Help scheme and £1,600 from Wollaston Gardeners' Guild, which opened its gardens to the public. Garden centres and commercial nurseries, especially Worfield Gardens, part of Bonningale, also contribute.

Mind's Pershore-trained horticulture project manager Jill Hogan said: "We only have sufficient funding to run two sessions a week, which each attract 12-15 volunteers. Demand is such that we could fill five days a week if we had capacity. People benefit in a range of ways. It helps overcome isolation. Working in the garden and on the greenhouse renovation project helps people to work collaboratively in small teams. It also encourages people to get out in the fresh air and to take more notice of their surroundings.

"The project has been very successful at reaching men who can be highly reluctant to seek direct mental health support. A conversation may start about growing beans but quickly turn to seeking advice on dealing with anxiety. Garden talk is a great icebreaker."

In Rugby, the health of residents also went hand in hand with reducing maintenance costs last year when the borough council's parks department, the county council and community groups established Rugby Edible Action Group (REAP), which has six sites of raised beds and is currently planting fruit trees across town.

"We wanted to encourage healthy living on a number of fronts," said green space officer Colin Horton. "People have gone from not being able to recognise what's edible to knowing how to grow it and cook it too." Food bank clients are also directed to REAP areas to pick their own fresh food to supplement tinned supplies.

Millennium Green was one unloved grass verge given to the council through the planning system that REAP repurposed. "It was doing nothing and there were a lot of requests from the community to improve the site," said Horton. "New Bilton community group successfully applied for £10,000 from the DCLG's Pocket Parks fund and we created three raised beds, pathways, an edible hedgerow and fruit tree.

"We mow the grass and look after the pathways, and the community group looks after the rest. There will be a tipping point where the investment it entails is offset by the maintenance cost savings. Food is also good for biodiversity and good for pollinators. I think the pressure is increasing to make open spaces as multifunctional as possible and I think edibles are part of that."

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