Parks missing out on social media boost

Blocking staff access to social media means councils miss chance to capitalise on branding and marketing opportunities.

South West Parks Conference: speakers cover key issues for sector
South West Parks Conference: speakers cover key issues for sector

Councils are missing a trick by blocking social media websites to staff, a parks boss-turned-communications consultant told a conference.

Speaking at the South West Parks Conference (8 October), Jim Hardcastle of Viper Communications scoffed at the public sector attitude. "Clearly all local authority staff are inherently corrupt and spend all their lives on social media - I speak from years of local government experience."

The Central Park Conservancy in New York has more than 70,000 followers on Twitter and 335,317 likes on Facebook. "When I was a parks manager if I'd gone to my boss and said I've got a mailing list of hundreds of thousands they would have been amazed," he added. "Parks managers would be foolish not to link the power of social media and parks."

A hashtag campaign run in Central Park, New York, asking people to say what they think of the play facilities and to upload pictures of children using them - #CentralPlay - was very successful.

National Federation of Parks & Green Spaces chair Sarah Royal also urged people to get on Twitter and to share the organisation's petition to politicians. She added that social media is "not just frivolous, there is no demographic that doesn't use social media".

Meanwhile, one of the projects that won £76,000 Rethinking Parks funding in June also wants to use technology to enable parks to become "gateways to giving". Speaking in the bid video, to a background of pictures of noticeboards and old-fashioned signage, Bournemouth Borough Council countryside operations manager Mark Holloway said: "We believe that the state of marketing and branding in parks is extremely poor.

"In Bournemouth we estimate eight million visits a year to our parks. Where are the invitations to become a stakeholder or to donate? To give something back? Thirty-one-million people visit our parks each year, a large number, something that major commercial players out there would love to have as a captive audience."

The Bournemouth project is investigating high-quality signage, digital touchscreen signage with links to social media and ways for people to donate using text messages, digital wallets or contactless payment cards. It will appoint a board of trustees from the local population to hand the project over to and employ a full-time project officer for a year.

Parks development manager Michael Rowland said the trust would not raise money to replace the council's maintenance service but to improve parks and that has to be explained to taxpayers.

Fraser Bridgeford of Bristol Park Forum introduced the ParkWork scheme to link marginalised people and support groups with parks and horticultural colleges in the city. The council is working with Land Use Consultants on the £99,450 project to "provide skills and training they might not get elsewhere", he said in his video.

"What we're trying to do is bring together agencies and the work we've got to do," he added. "People haven't done it before because it is going to be hard."

Positive work - Tackling the funding crisis

The South West Parks Conference was organised by Green Connect with the aim of focusing on the positive work being done to address the parks funding crisis.

Green Connect was established by Karen Hughes, former regional development manager at charity GreenSpace South West, in the wake of GreenSpace's collapse. Speaking at the end of the meeting, she said: "We're ready to start moving forward and see these cuts as a bit of an opportunity, perversely, rather than a threat."

South West in Bloom chair Jon Wheately added: "I can see a vision coming together."

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