Parks' value recognised in funding commitment

A clear recognition that parks contribute to the mental and physical health and well-being of communities is behind the Big Lottery Fund's (BIG) continuing commitment to public parks.

On 10 September BIG announced that it will invest a further £20m in England's public parks and cemeteries -- £10m a year until 2018. The money combines with the Heritage Lottery Fund's (HLF) commitment of £20m per year under the Parks for People programme in England, bringing the total available to £30m each year.

Tessa Wiley, head of policy and learning at BIG, explained that funding parks makes perfect sense thanks to BIG’s focus on people. "This new continued investment for the next two years is demonstrating that we value the impact the environment can have on peoples’ health and well-being," she said.

BIG gives out around £500m per year to groups that help improve their communities, and since 2006 the partnership between Big and HLF has seen nearly £290m of National Lottery cash invested in reviving historic green spaces. Organisations can apply for funding for projects that repair heritage features, open new facilities and run volunteering and activity programmes, involving the community in the running of the park.

"We’ve funded activities in parks that are about reducing isolation, increased ownership of the landscape, improving skills and confidence," said Wiley. "People feel they’re making more contribution to their community, finding employment through volunteering — that all contributes to how a person feels about themselves and respond to the community in which they live." BIG encourages a partnership approach, where the local authority works with community, health or education groups to apply for funding.

Parks face different challenges to those they faced in 2006 when the Parks for People partnership started, said Wiley. "In today’s austerity climate with all the cuts to budgets, and with the loss of skilled staff, we are losing maintenance in parks. That can mean they become underused and neglected — and then their social and environmental value can erode very quickly."

But parks can also solve problems local authorities face, such as an increasing health burden, and offer ways to deal with changing demographics — including ageing and transient populations.

"People get involved in parks for all sorts of reasons," said Wiley. "They will volunteer not just because they live there but because they want to become a part of the community, and one of the best ways to get to know your neighbours is to volunteer in a park. It gives people a sense of pride."

Applications for the next round of Parks for People funding are open until 29 February 2016. The first grants from this new investment will be awarded in June 2016.

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