Talks aim to preserve legacy of GreenSpace

Devastating cuts to budgets and Government grants blamed as administrator sought to wind up GreenSpace parks charity.

Parks: national charity has championed the sector for past 12 years - image: Greenspace
Parks: national charity has championed the sector for past 12 years - image: Greenspace

The shock and disbelief that greeted last week's announcement that GreenSpace is to cease trading have given way to worry about the future of allied groups and key initiatives led by the charity.

Industry leaders spoke of their dismay as news broke that the national charity that has championed parks and green spaces for the past 12 years is winding up. In a statement, chief executive Paul Bramhill said cuts to budgets and Government grants were devastating.

GreenSpace policy and research adviser Michelle Parker said insolvency practitioner Harrisons Business Recovery & Insolvency is due to appoint an administrator. The company declined to comment.

"They are assessing everything," said Parker. "I'm very disappointed as we thought we had just about weathered the storm, but unfortunately not in time. Hopefully, discussions that are happening now will allow some legacy of GreenSpace to be preserved and maintained."

The collapse comes a month after the Big Lottery Fund awarded GreenSpace's Love Parks project a grant of £416,450 to help create a nationwide network of trained volunteers. A spokeswoman said the grant did not pass over to GreenSpace.

"We are very sorry, particularly as GreenSpace has done fantastic and important work to improve parks and green spaces up and down the country," she added. "Due to their recent circumstances, they were unable to formally accept our grant."

Keep Britain Tidy head Paul Todd said the announcement was a big shock. His group worked with GreenSpace on the Green Flag Awards, with the latter responsible for training judges and the international development of the initiative.

"This is a real surprise. Just when we need every organisation to support the sector, we lose the main voice of the industry. It's a very, very sad day. However, it doesn't affect the Green Flag Awards directly and we are finalising numbers of applications.

"Decisions have yet to be made on training judges and other areas. There are a number of legal things to discuss. The biggest affect on the awards is we have lost an organisation that can promote them vocally. It's a great loss to the industry."

National Federation of Parks & Green Spaces (NFPGS) campaigns officer Dave Morris said: "The inability of our close partner to continue is symptomatic of what's happening to our green spaces and those who promote and work in them.

"We had a symbiotic agreement to support each other and work jointly, and its demise is a serious blow. We are a bottom-up, grass-roots organisation and should be able to weather the storm but we can't be as effective without backup from them as a national, well-established, well-staffed organisation."

Morris said the NFPGS benefits from grants given to GreenSpace to fund network events that are sometimes used to pay for hosting meetings. He insisted the group will continue but questioned whether it could maintain its scale of activities.

Association for Public Service Excellence (APSE) principal parks services adviser Debbie Johns said: "It's very sad news and our concerns are for the staff. Long term, we need to consider industry needs and the valuable input of services such as Green Flag and GreenSTAT.

"APSE will talk with our members in parks to see what support we can give. It reflects the on-going recessionary environment where non-statutory services such as parks appear to take a disproportionate hit in authority budget cuts."

Another Green Space initiative is the GreenPlaces Fund, where councils team up with business and locals to chip in to a fund dedicated to parks. Nottingham was piloting the service. Head of parks and open spaces Eddie Curry said: "This is devastating for the industry but as far as the fund goes we got the money back into our accounts and it went on projects that have been delivered, so we haven't lost anything.

"We would like to see the fund transferred to a like-minded charity or run it ourselves as a charity. We won't lose the emphasis or the infrastructure locally. We have a decision-making board in place and private-sector involvement around the table.

"Our strategy will be to regroup and think about our next direction in parallel with what happens at GreenSpace to dissolve assets and transfer going concerns to like-minded groups. But we have the framework and philosophy to continue here.

"I think there will be a groundswell of people who can refocus their efforts. There has always been, alongside GreenSpace, local regional forums. But this suggests the Make Parks a Priority campaign is even more crucial now than when it was conceived."

Sector professionals on the loss of GreenSpace and potential scenarios for the future

Drew Bennellick, head of landscape, Heritage Lottery Fund

"Love Parks is one of several top brands and I hope someone will be able to pick up and run with it. Our role is to award grants across the heritage sector - we would not be able to run the initiative but might be able to support somebody. With training for Green Flag judges, maybe our new appointment Shaun Kiddell can help with Heritage Lottery Fund projects. Rather than start again, we should pause to think what kind of organisation we want. In this digital age, it could be more of an online set-up."

Peter Wilkinson, parks consultant

"I would like to think that some of GreenSpace's main partners - the Heritage Lottery Fund, English Heritage, Keep Britain Tidy, Conservation Volunteers, Groundwork, even Communities & Local Government - might want to get round a table to salvage what we can from GreenSpace's resources. GreenSpace created a culture that was 100 per cent and genuinely focused on our sector and the needs of park managers and customers rather than sustaining the organisation for its own sake. I rarely if ever see this in other organisations."

Evan Giles, parks & countryside manager, Horsham district council

"I am so, so sorry to hear this sad news. I have been tremendously impressed by the work of GreenSpace since it started. From its formation, Green Space quickly became the parks champion we always knew we needed, and our sector will be significantly poorer without it. I feel for every member of staff at this difficult time, which has not been of their making."

Sid Sullivan, parks consultant

"We cannot afford to lose that level of expertise and the staff have done superb work. The news is dreadful but we have to make sure that this is a sunrise, not a sunset, moment. The sector now has to show the Government how it deals with this serious issue and work together to stabilise and resolve. Otherwise, our finding difficulties will get even harder."

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