Mid and East Antrim, one of eleven Northern Ireland ‘super councils’ formed in April 2015, has quickly established a reputation as an award winning Borough largely due to the work of the 120-strong Parks and Open Spaces team.
The Parks and Open Spaces service manages over 300 sites including premier parks, play parks, woodlands, sports pitches, cemeteries, walkways, off street car parking, and 62 miles of coastline. Under the leadership of the new Head of Service, they have had more training opportunities and taken part in unprecedented numbers of team meetings, briefings and business planning days. The net effect has been improved communication and the development of a team which is customer-focused, has a team ethos, sets itself ambitious goals and delivers a business plan which is strategically aligned to Corporate and Community Plan priorities.
In 2017 this paid off when the borough picked up the most awards of any council area in the Translink Ulster in Bloom for the second year in a row. The council picked up 12 awards including Special Award for Biodiversity (Carrickfergus) and the Roses in Towns award (Ballymena). Ballymena and Cullybackey also received Silver Gilt awards at the RHS Britain in Bloom awards. In 2017, the council was also awarded 8 Green Flag Awards and 3 Seaside Awards.
With tourism a key priority to boost the local economy, the parks service recognises its role in providing attractions that visitors want. The team are mindful that efficiencies are being sought and are identifying opportunities to increase income whilst minimising costs.
In 2017, almost £479,000 was awarded from the Special European Union Programme Board to deliver the Peace IV Programme entitled ‘Your Place Our Space’ which will enable the team to use parks and open spaces to reduce conflict between sections of our local community over the next 2 years. In addition, funding has been secured to deliver Active Spaces programmes through Fields in Trust.
Income is generated via a golf course and mini golf facility at Bentra, bowling greens, tennis courts and allotment facilities.
A core strength is community engagement. Three new ‘Friends of’ groups have been established and supported since 2016. In 2017 alone the ‘Friends’ amassed over 1000 volunteer hours.
The team is committed to protecting local biodiversity. This year it sowed 1 million wildflower seeds, built three barn owl boxes and added further Local Nature Reserves to its portfolio.
Staff have been road-testing eco-friendly electric vehicles, actively reducing herbicide usage and moving away from annual bedding plants in favour of sustainable planting, tree planting and wildflower meadows.