Traditional formats fail to interest young people

The Parks Alliance chairman Mark Camley has said Gardeners' Question Time and the RHS Chelsea Flower Show make his heart sink because they are "a bit stuck in the mud" and are failing to interest young people in gardening at a time when the skills shortage is rife.

Parks Alliance chairman Mark Camley
Parks Alliance chairman Mark Camley

Speaking at the Green Connect conference in Bristol on 7 October, Camley said: "They're not breaking the mould. I think they're aimed at that middle-aged, middle-class, middle-of-the-road audience. They don't engage young people and I don't think they help to address the challenges that we as an industry face in looking after parks and open spaces. They suck the life out of some of the arguments and issues that I would like to see (discussed)."

However, he was full of praise for parks managers, who are "can-do people, innovative and able to set their minds to some of the challenges we face". Parks managers risk being taken for granted because they are like swans - graceful and calm above water and giving the erroneous impression that their jobs are easy, he added. "Actually showing some of the issues and work taken to achieve it might be of greater benefit to us."

Camley discussed ongoing plans for the funding of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and said funding for parks would remain challenging. "We have benefited from a lot of upfront big capital investment from Government to help make the transformation," he said. "But we are now moving into steady state and we have been challenged to make significant savings."

He added: "Parks are not a statutory function, and I also don't think that would make that much difference. At one point I did think it actually would help us, but we are seeing cuts being made even to statutory functions so I don't think it's a silver bullet."

However, the interest that other bodies are taking in parks - including Nesta, the Policy Exchange think tank, the National Trust and UK Sport - as well as the huge impact of the Heritage Lottery Fund are all cause for optimism, said Camley. Programmes such as Rethinking Parks allow the sector to learn from what is working and what avenues might turn out to be dead ends, he added.

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