Parks professionals shared survival strategies at last week's Association for Public Service Excellence (APSE) seminar (9 July).
The big messages at No Going Back: Creating Self-Sustaining & Outcome Generating Parks & Green Spaces - held at The Hub in Regent's Park, London - were that income generation, new ideas and positive thinking could save parks.
Speakers included APSE assistant chief executive Mark Bramah, parks consultant Dr Sid Sullivan, Wakefield Council street scene manager Ian Jones and Knowsley Metropolitan Borough Council open spaces manager Caroline Davies.
Nottingham City Council parks and open spaces head Eddie Curry explained how he encourages his department to "find opportunities" and stay relentlessly positive despite council cuts. Now it generates more than two-thirds of its service costs through several initiatives.
These include renting parks out as film and television sets, capitalising on famous names associated with the area - such as Robin Hood, Brian Clough and Lord Byron - holding events and temporarily using parks as car parks during big events. They brought in private security and cash collection operatives where it was cheaper and harnessed the goodwill of corporations that sent staff on volunteer days.
Meanwhile, park rangers have taken on extra training to become educators who can deliver a recognised qualification in schools. The services of council landscape architects and the horticultural and nursery teams are rented out to the private and not-for-profit sectors as well as other councils.
Curry stressed that it is important to annually assess market rates and said he has increased fees for some services by 30 per cent.
"We've got some unique skills and we can still be competitive. There are lots of areas where niche specialisms can be developed to provide income return. My team is fantastic at identifying new business opportunities and new ways of growing the service in a proactive way."
Horticulture Week editor Kate Lowe brought the gathering up to date with developments on the newly formed Parks Alliance, which is intended to become a cross-industry campaigning organisation with charity status. She told delegates that a meeting in May produced "a clear mandate to move forward with the creation of a parks alliance".
Data study - Finding changes to save money
Speaking at the seminar, Wigan Leisure & Culture Trust bereavement services manager Andrew Bond said taking part in a data study with other local authorities showed where his department could make changes to make and save money.
Training gravediggers to complete horticultural tasks during downtime and being more efficient in crematorium use both yielded results, he added. Data also helped to show council bosses where he could invest to maximise income.
A small investment in a plasma television screen and a decent sound system enabled the service to charge more for mourners displaying photos of the deceased and playing music they liked, something that has "really taken off", said Bond.