Setting the benchmark

Launched in 1996, the benchmark national standard for parks and green spaces in the UK - the Green Flag Award scheme - continues to consistently set the high standards against which parks and green spaces are measured, says Paul Todd.

The Green Flag Award scheme is the benchmark national standard for parks and green spaces in the UK. It was first launched in 1996 to recognise and raise the standard of parks across the country. The scheme is now also being piloted in Australia, Germany, New Zealand and the Netherlands.

The first awards were given in 1997 and the scheme continues to set the high standards against which our parks and green spaces are measured. It is also seen as a way of encouraging and supporting others to achieve the same, setting a benchmark for our green spaces.

What's more, winning a Green Flag Award can generate excellent publicity for a site. Both the media and the public are becoming increasingly aware that a site flying a Green Flag is a high-quality green space that meets the needs of the community it serves. The award is held for 12 months and sites must reapply each year to maintain a Green Flag.

City of London director of open spaces Sue Ireland says: "The Green Flag scheme is a great way to recognise the support and achievements of our volunteers and friends groups. With nearly 50,000 volunteering hours achieved last year across the City of London's managed open spaces, an increase of 10 per cent, we are delighted that Green Flags recognise the quality of provision and the substantial work of our staff teams as well as volunteers."

How to apply

To apply, an online application form must be completed and photos uploaded highlighting some of the key features in the park or pictures of community activity, as well as the site management plan. For further information including key dates and costs, see www.greenflagaward.org.

What we look for

The judging takes the form of two elements. The first of these is the "desk assessment", which is a review of the management plan and other documentation that is used to manage the site.

Judges expect the management plan to demonstrate that managers understand the type of site they are responsible for, such as a country park or cemetery, its current condition and the needs of the community. The plan should then clearly explain the vision for the site as well as how that will be achieved and monitored for the length of the document.

The second element is the "field assessment". This is the opportunity for a site to show the judges the standard that has been achieved, improvements that are planned and how the community has been engaged in the management and development of the park or green space.

Post assessment

Each applicant receives a detailed feedback report highlighting the strengths and recommendations made by the judges. Winning sites receive the coveted Green Flag Award and access to posters and certificates to help promote their success. Winners have their own page on the Green Flag Award website, where they can promote their site and highlight the facilities available and events.

The judges

Our judges are all industry professionals who have volunteered and been selected according to their experience within the sector. They are required to complete a two-day induction programme and are mentored for their first year of judging.

The scheme has a dedicated learning and development manager who is responsible for ensuring the standard of our judging team is maintained. Judges benefit from training and the opportunity to share their wealth of experience as well as learning from the achievements of the sites they assess.

If you would be interested in joining the judging team, further information is available on the judges section of the website. Judges are represented by a judges' association, with members from each country, ensuring standards of judging are maintained and providing a voice for more than 700 judges.

What our applicants say

Bury Council parks and countryside manager Mike Bent says: "Green Flag is the standard we aspire to annually and, to this end, it is ingrained in the minds of our staff and our local community groups as well as volunteers. This focuses our teams on what needs doing, and when, to maintain this national standard for parks."

He continues: "It is a well-supported initiative from the leader of the council through to the staff on the ground and brings everyone together in a common cause."

Rugby Borough Council parks and grounds manager Chris Worman adds: "Attaining and maintaining a Green Flag Award is not only a method of measuring the performance of your local park but actually demonstrates a much wider commitment to engaging with local communities, understanding local needs and providing a location to promote public well-being."


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