CJS

logo: Environmental Funders NetworkCJS Focus on Fundraising & Promotion

 

Published:  22 May 2017

 

In Association with: Environmental Funders Network


logo: NestaHabits for successful parks innovation

By Lydia Ragoonanan, Senior Programme Manager at Nesta

 

Faced with funding cuts of 60 per cent and more over the next decade, public parks in the UK are at risk.  Within this context, the Heritage Lottery Fund1 and Big Lottery Fund2 (who have invested over £800m into public parks) teamed up with Nesta to run Rethinking Parks between 2014-2016; an experimental programme designed to find, test and measure the impact of new ideas to sustain public parks. 

Lydia Ragoonanan (Rethinking Parks)

Lydia Ragoonanan (Rethinking Parks)

Rethinking Parks supported eleven teams over an 18 month period, so that the wider sector was better armed with knowledge about promising options to bridge the pressing funding gap.

 

We never anticipated that all ideas would work, or that any model would completely replace the need for local authority funding. What we have found, however, is that there are a number of approaches parks teams can use to help close the funding gap. Approaches with promise include Burnley Go to the Park3 - a project that is changing the park maintenance regime from more intensive formal planting to less intensive meadows and perennials as a way to both reduce cost and increase biodiversity. Darlington Rethinking Parks4 encouraged regular volunteering by businesses to improve parks, whilst Bristol ParkWork5 has supported a number of participants into employment or training through their in-park horticultural skills and work experience programme.

 

Yet itís not just the idea that makes a project promising. The disciplines used to test and shape new ways to fund parks are as important as what is done.

 

From our experience of working with the eleven teams over the past 18 months, we think there are a set of disciplines that ought to be applied as a default for the sector, rather than just confined to Rethinking Parks. These are disciplines that, regardless of idea,

Go to the Park, Burnley (Rethinking Parks)

Go to the Park, Burnley

(Rethinking Parks)

should put park teams in a good position to adapt promising ideas from this programme or, crucially, inspire them to develop their own. We think these disciplines should become regular practice for people in the parks sector, and with that in mind we are calling these disciplines Ďhabitsí.

 

Our seven habits for successful parks innovation are:

1. Diversify income streams

Park teams should broaden the number of income streams, layer income and look for opportunities that cut costs while enhancing peopleís experience

 

2. Understand where your money is going

Park teams should get under the skin of their finances. This practice helps identify opportunities for efficiencies, and for improvement. Itís hard to know where you can go if you donít know where you are starting from. Bringing in external financial expertise to understand opportunities to improve the return on investment is often a helpful way to achieve this.

 

3. Involve people

Itís essential to understand what people value about each park, and why. Observing, asking and involving people helps identify opportunities and barriers when developing, testing and implementing new approaches. 

 

4. Test, adapt and then do it again

The first idea is rarely the best idea. Even well thought through and researched plans need tweaking when they move from concepts to concrete projects. Approaches such as prototyping build in deliberate opportunities for testing. This way ideas can be fully launched based on testing of real peopleís experiences and evidence of impact.

 5. Work with others

People who love parks come from all walks of life, and Rethinking Parks has demonstrated a wealth of opportunities to tap into the energy of people who love parks, but donít necessarily want to join a ĎParkís Friendsí group. Through partnering with others,

London Coastal Parks and Garden Foundation, Bournemouth (Rethinking Parks)

London Coastal Parks and Garden Foundation,

Bournemouth (Rethinking Parks)

opportunities to tap into a wider set of resources open up. So too do different skills, mind-sets, ideas and experiences. Just as the income streams need to diversify, so too do the range of partners who can support parks.

 

6. Secure a mandate to operate

Without permission to try new things, to test and to bring in new partners, good ideas may never get off the ground. Communicating the case for change, explaining to decision makers how risks will be managed and framing ideas within the wider strategy are ways to secure a mandate for change.

 

7. Be open

Cynics rarely change the world. Bringing in new ways to fund and sustain public parks requires a level of openness to challenge on behalf of local authorities and lead partners, as well as being open to a wider set of people and partners to shape decision making.

 

As Rethinking Parks programme participant, Simon Goff from Burnley Borough Council noted ďWe donít have to keep doing things the same way weíve always done them.Ē

 

This Learning to Rethink Parks6 report identifies just a few new ways our public parks can continue to thrive into the new century and I hope proves to be a useful resource for the sector in this quest.

 

Rethinking Parks was a £1 million Big Lottery Fund, Heritage Lottery Fund and Nesta programme designed to find, support and test new business models to sustain the UK's public parks.

 

More about each can be found here7.

 

Footnotes

1 https://www.hlf.org.uk/

2 https://www.biglotteryfund.org.uk/

3 http://www.nesta.org.uk/node/20446

4 http://www.nesta.org.uk/node/12425

5 http://www.nesta.org.uk/node/21047

6 http://www.nesta.org.uk/publications/learning-rethink-parks

7 http://www.nesta.org.uk/blog/11-projects-are-rethinking-parks  

 

Contacted June 2018 - believed to be correct


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