Parks Alliance formed to stand up for sector

Cross-sector group of parks and allied representatives gather to agree next steps for alliance including transitional board.

Baines: event facilitator announced the existence of Parks Alliance - image: HW
Baines: event facilitator announced the existence of Parks Alliance - image: HW

Plans to build an alliance to tackle the funding crisis facing public parks took a significant step forward last week as a cross-sector group of parks and allied representatives gathered in London to agree the next steps for the initiative including the creation of a transitional board.

Nearly 40 key sector executives from across the UK discussed the way forward at the second Parks Leadership Round Table, hosted by Horticulture Week.

Prompted by HW's Make Parks a Priority campaign, the round table was formed to provide a shared industry voice amid Government and council cuts as well as a stumbling economy.

On the agenda was the opportunity for working groups set up at the inaugural meeting in February to report back and for the participants to consider three key questions:

- Should a Parks Alliance be officially established as a non-profit organisation?

- What form should it take?

- What should it do?

During the meeting it became clear that there was no need for a discussion of whether to form a group as all agreed on its need. Announcing its existence, facilitator Professor Chris Baines, one of the original CABE Space champions, said: "We already have an alliance, we are already here. What we want people to say in a few years' time is if we didn't have the Parks Alliance, we would have had to invent it."

The group agreed a strategy document for the Parks Alliance prepared by one of the working groups that states the alliance's core mission is "to provide campaigning leadership and put public parks at the heart of the drive for healthy, resilient and sustainable communities" to be achieved through "a broad range of leadership programmes, actions and plans".

Participants agreed to set up a transitional board that will meet before the next round table event. They welcomed an offer of support from the Institute of Groundsmanship, which will host the next round table at its Saltex trade show in September. Chartered Institution of Water & Environmental Management chief executive Nick Reeves also pledged support.

Introducing the discussion on the Parks Alliance structure, Dr Sid Sullivan said: "We need to get the message right, but we need to do it with a voice that shows we are together as a group."

Underlining the significance of the gathering, HW editor Kate Lowe said it was "incredibly exciting to see so many of the absolute linchpins of the parks and allied sectors here today".

After reiterating the urgent need to find a way to more powerfully communicate concerns for the future of parks, she added: "Today we have the opportunity to begin to address these challenges by taking forward the proposal for a Parks Alliance able to represent the sector and the contribution to our society that is made by parks."

Baines said it was fantastic to see so many people "committing to this process". He added: "We are on the brink of a complete step change in the status of parks and the seriousness with which they are taken by governments." He called for "the magic missing ingredient" to help "common sense reach the people who make decisions".

The Parks Alliance - Goals and structure

What it will do:

- Be a single unified voice for the UK's green-space organisations and stakeholders.

- Become the missing champion of public parks across the UK.

- Make the case for parks, seek protection, investment and sustainable funding.

- Seek the endorsement of national and devolved UK governments.

- Seek to involve, inspire and inform.

- Seek to influence the future direction of the green-space sector.

- Press for investment in training and support innovation and skills.

- Promote environmental sustainability.

- Use the word "parks" to mean all public green infrastructure.

- Promote the Green Flag standard as the benchmark for parks.

What it will be:

- A not-for-profit body working for the public benefit established as a limited company in the first instance with an online presence.

- Run by its members and with the attributes of a charity.

- Represented by a ten-member board with voting rights that will meet at least three times each year and be chaired by a member elected for a 12-month term.

- Have a transitional board for the first two years that will submit a funding bid, establish not-for-profit status and secure a partnering arrangement so that grant aid can be securely banked.

Working groups - Reporting back to Parks Leadership Round Table

Lucy Hares of the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) reported back on the data working group's investigation. "We have got anecdotal evidence that things are getting worse but getting a clearer picture across the UK is quite difficult," she said.

Parks are often grouped in with other things such as culture and cemeteries. "There are lots of data sets but no one 'census for parks'. If we can provide robust evidence, we would be listened to."

Hares suggested negotiating with parks groups to use their data, layering data sets across each other and feeding in forthcoming HLF and Policy Exchange research. Collecting data should become a habit.

From the communications working groups, specialist Ben Hurley along with parks consultants Peter Neal and Bob Ivison distilled a PR strategy for a campaign into six key questions, the most important of which is asking the group whether they want to create a CBI-style organisation or a Make Poverty History-style campaign.

From the parks trust working group, Nene Park Trust chief executive officer James McCulloch outlined the factors that made the Nene Trust successful and how the model could be replicated. The transformation requires a six-month feasibility study, he said.

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