Corporate sponsorship is an increasingly popular way to bring in income during straightened times, can be mutually beneficial and does not need to be intrusive. But it can be tough to secure. So how are parks teams approaching the task?
Nottingham City Council's parks department, which is on track to achieve its ambition of becoming financially self-sufficient by 2020, has achieved direct sponsorship of six parks in the city. Sponsors get naming rights and a plaque or board with company information in each park.
"We tend to have a real strong partnership with them," says head of parks and open spaces Eddie Curry. "It's about them getting involved, utilising them and having some sort of relationship with the grounds staff." Nottingham also has a tradition of sponsored traffic islands that brings in £80,000 a year. It pays to look again at a park estate through commercial eyes, says Curry. "Parks alongside highway junctions are hot spots for sponsorship platforms" because of exposure to standing vehicles.
Leeds City Council launched a local business sponsorship last year and now has three parks sponsored. Community groups decide where the sponsorship money will be spent on park improvements. The parks department has a dedicated web page on the subject, a business partnerships office and a Business in the Park brochure.
Head of parks and countryside Sean Flesher says the programme has gone down well with both businesses and residents. "The parks keep the same name but the company adopts the park and gives money and volunteer time," he explains. "We include their information on signage at the entrance and on our website. The reaction from the public has been really positive. It brings in a couple of thousand a year. These are quite small community parks so it does make a difference. We are under tough financial circumstances but we want to improve the quality of our parks."
Improvements to date include flower beds, signage and nest boxes. The firms are also involved in planting schemes and bought the bulbs. The department is also due to launch the Leeds Park Fund this summer just before Love Parks Week, working with Leeds Community Fund. It will be able to take bequeathals and other donations and establish memorial parks. The department already draws in around £200,000 a year through bequeathals.
But there can be challenges. In Edinburgh, head of parks, green spaces and cemeteries David Jamieson is limited by an existing agreement. "Edinburgh has a city-wide advertising contract for all public spaces so it's quite difficult," he explains. "If it's smaller it's fine, but it's when it becomes relatively large there is a problem."
Prosperous Parks - run by the Heritage Lottery Fund, Big Lottery Fund and Land Trust to share best practice and innovative ideas on income generation in parks - features a section on sponsorship on its website that is still live although the project has been wound up. It lists the range of things that can be sponsored and points out that sponsorship can help with the salary bill if companies sponsor a job role.
Getting off the ground
Sponsorship can help get a project off the ground to begin with. In Manchester, a charity's ambitious plans to transform a post-industrial site on the edge of the city into a green space comparable in size to New York's Central Park and create a 330ha "City of Trees" is looking for investors.
Initiated by the Oglesby Charitable Trust and Community Forest Trust, the project first received funding in 2007 from the Government's Newlands programme via the Forestry Commission and has 250,000 trees so far. But the charity wants to plant three million, one for every person living in the city, within a generation.
"City of Trees has a really ambitious vision and to achieve it we need to bring companies, organisations, community groups and public sector bodies from across Greater Manchester together," says director Tony Hothersall. "We've worked with some key organisations who are committed to improving the quality of the environment."
Local property company Bruntwood pledged a tree for each of its key clients as a Christmas present in 2015. More than 250 oak, field maple, elder, silver birch, rowan and hazel were planted the following April. Insurance broker Swinton Group celebrated 60 years since its formation in Manchester by planting 300 trees at schools in Davyhulme. The company pays for the trees but around 20 of its staff will also help to plant them.
Hothersall adds: "By working with us on projects, companies reap the rewards. Not only do they meet their green goals and boost their corporate social responsibility credentials but they can engage their employees, clients or customers with on-the-ground activity in the communities in which they operate. Working in partnership is mutually beneficial."
The Land Trust has been working with the private sector to create new green spaces since 1989. Typically developers or other companies that want to create a new green space approach the trust and give an endowment that the trust invests to pay for maintenance.
Examples include Port Sunlight River Park, a 28ha free-access public park created from a former landfill site through a 99-year lease of the surface of the park from Biffa Waste Services and Unilever. Another is Northumberlandia, a 19ha community park built by the Banks Group as part of the restoration of the adjacent Shotton surface coal mine on land donated by the Blagdon Estate. It includes a human landform sculpture known as The Lady of the North. The £3m cost of the project was privately funded by the Banks Group along with the Blagdon Estate.
Like parks departments up and down the country, The Royal Parks has been working with companies to link volunteer labour with corporate social responsibility for many years and launched its current Park Days programme last year with 330 volunteers from six different companies working on projects across six parks.
The work ranges from planting wild flowers, traditional mowing of meadows with shire horses, clearing water channels and bench restoration. But after starting the new financial year as a charity, it has rebooted the project. It has identified 12 zones across the parks that need support and has so far found corporates to sponsor two of them.
Head of programmes Clare Bowen says: "It costs £36m to keep the Royal Parks beautiful and bursting with life for the 77 million visitors they receive each year. Revenue from Park Days helps to support The Royal Parks and its activities and the parks rely on the valuable time and energy devoted by teams of volunteers to make improvements that might otherwise not happen."
She adds: "Employee volunteering also helps us to build community links and valuable business support. We are hugely grateful to our volunteers and without them the parks would certainly not be as pristinely kept as they are today."
One company enrolled on the scheme is catering firm Benugo. Commercial director Tim Axe says: "The chance to get our hands dirty in the outdoors was a real treat and a really rewarding experience for the whole team. We've sponsored a whole zone, so we've had the opportunity to send multiple groups down to the area to help clear and plant it over several days so far this year."
In a recent speech at the Worshipful Company of Gardeners, new Royal Parks chairman Loyd Grossman said this is something the charity will focus on more in the coming years. "We are independent from the Government and best of all we are independent from Government accountancy rules," he added.
"For the first time ever we are able to build up a cash reserve and we're able to do something called long-term planning, which is an innovation as far as a Government agency is concerned. We can be more proactive and we can appeal more to the public. We need more support from the public, from philanthropists. Nobody wants to give money to the Government but they do give money to something that has a sound business case and emotional appeal."
It is worth remembering that parks and green spaces are excellent brands in themselves, with which a variety of businesses would want to be associated. Coca-Cola's ParkLives scheme was launched in Birmingham in 2014 and is now in 10 cities across the UK. The soft drinks giant will not reveal how much it has invested in ParkLives but it is part of Coca-Cola Great Britain's £20m fund for community-based programmes.
The public-private partnerships between Coca-Cola and the local authorities gives parks revenue and the company an opportunity to be the name behind free exercise classes and other events associated with health, fun, well-being and family time in parks across the country. There has even been a ParkLives session held on the lawn outside the Palace of Westminster, where MPs and civil servants were given the opportunity to try Zumba, "boxfit" and hula hooping.
Sponsorship Pros and cons
- Guaranteed income, unlike events.
- Provides additional income for existing facilities.
- Can be used to raise money for new facilities.
- Does not require anything new to be provided.
- Can support local businesses.
- Different scales (small-scale sponsorship of a bench or large-scale sponsorship of a whole park).
- Engaging with businesses is time-consuming and does not always produce results.
- Can annoy visitors.
- Can be detrimental to how your brand and site are perceived.