Scotland’s Park Managers Forum

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Are you an expert juggler? Do you have superb plate-spinning skills? Are you a budding alchemist, with a passion for people and parks? If yes, a career in parks and greenspace management could be for you!

We’re all familiar with the soundbites of ‘parks feeling the pinch’ and ‘greenspace under pressure’. The same is true for the people and services managing our parks and greenspaces. The Heritage Lottery Fund’s State of UK Public Parks reports have charted budget cuts to parks services and the corresponding reduction in staffing.

Making connections – sharing practice © greenspace scotland
Making connections – sharing practice © greenspace scotland

Across Scotland there has been a marked reduction in greenspace staff and particularly a loss of specialist skills and apprentice programmes. Some Councils report their workforce has reduced by a third in the last 5 years, with larger cuts to come over the next year.  

Not surprisingly, greenspace and parks officers are feeling increasingly stretched. When you’re trying to juggle too many competing priorities and demands on your time, personal and professional development too often takes a back-seat.   It’s hard to find time to lift your head from the grindstone and see how others are tackling similar challenges and opportunities. The result can be people sitting in geographical isolation, individually and collectively, reinventing the wheel.

In a greenspace scotland survey in 2015, park managers told us how infrequently they met colleagues outside of their council and how this limited opportunities to share experience and practice, and to develop new approaches to the challenges of managing and sustaining Scotland’s parks with fewer resources and staff.

Our answer was to establish the Scottish Park Managers’ Forum to support the professional and operational development of park managers. The Forum enables them to share practice across council areas, develop skills and explore challenges so that they can more effectively and efficiently manage Scotland’s parks. This in turn supports and enhances the local provision of sustainable greenspace services.

Park Managers Forum in action © greenspace scotland
Park Managers Forum in action © greenspace scotland

The Forum is one of Scotland’s responses to the ‘Call to Action’ in the first HLF State of Parks report. We were delighted to receive support from the HLF through a ‘Start-up’ Grant to support the early development of the Forum. Last year we were grateful for funding support from idverde for Forum meetings and Scottish Natural Heritage for the study tour. This funding support means there is no charge for attending Forum events and this makes it easier for local authority colleagues to attend.

The Forum involves all 32 Scottish Councils, with over 160 park managers and officers currently subscribing.   Quarterly meetings are generally attended by around 40 colleagues, typically with representation from 18-20 Councils – that’s two-thirds of Scotland’s Councils.

Each forum meeting focuses on a different topic – drawing on key issues and challenges identified by members. Meetings have covered: new approaches to park strategies; changing management practices; benchmarking; working with communities; Community Empowerment Act; lessons from Rethinking Parks; parks advocacy; asset management and valuation.

Each meeting involves guest speakers and case studies presented by colleagues from within the Scottish parks sector and external speakers from other sectors and/or outwith Scotland.   Workshop and participatory sessions encourage sharing of practice and learning. Presentations and workshop notes are shared with all colleagues via a password protected micro-site.   Topic based working groups engage officers in discussions and sharing practice between meetings and there is more frequent ad hoc communication between park managers building on networking connections made through Forum meetings.

Greenspace delivering on Scottish Government priorities  © greenspace scotland
Greenspace delivering on Scottish Government priorities © greenspace scotland

Collectively, the Forum is now looking at opportunities to develop a common approach to asset management systems and natural capital accounting across Scotland’s councils; developing a park advocacy strategy and working on plans for the Scottish Parks Endowment. Topics for the future include skills development, apprenticeships and CPD; income generation and diversification; community management and asset transfers; realising our natural health service.

A key strand of greenspace scotland’s activity is pioneering new approaches to resourcing and managing greenspace. This includes climate change parks, local food growing strategies, ParkPower, young placechangers and MyParkScotland – which provides Scotland’s only crowdfunding platform specifically for parks and greenspaces – and the Parks Endowment Fund. For each of these programmes, we work closely with colleagues in pioneer Councils to develop and test new ways of working and share learning with colleagues.

In 2017, the Parks Manager Forum was Highly Commended in the Horticulture Week Awards in the ‘Best Park Partnership’ category. We were hugely encouraged to see the Forum highlighted in the Communities and Local Government Select Committee Parks Inquiry report and recommended as a model for developing Park Manager Forum(s) in England. Our experience in Scotland, indicates that national or regional Forums for park managers would be hugely beneficial for colleagues in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. We would be delighted to be able to share experience and assist in their establishment.

© greenspace scotland
© greenspace scotland

If you’re reading this as a parks manager or officer in Scotland and you’re not already in touch with the Forum, please drop us an email If you’re not in Scotland, we may be able to offer ‘visiting visas’ to extend invitations to specific events – and we’ve already benefited significantly from hearing about practice and learning from colleagues in England.

About greenspace scotland

greenspace scotland is Scotland’s parks and greenspace charity; an independent charitable company and social enterprise. Since 2002, we have provided a national lead on greenspace working with national and local partners to shape policy and promote good practice. Our goal is that everyone has easy access to quality greenspaces that meet local needs and improve quality of life. @greenspacescot

Updated information October 2021:

In 2021, the Park Managers Forum moved online with monthly meetings – topics have covered: income generation from and for parks, ash dieback, participatory budgeting, using data, nature-based solutions – and the Forum is connected with Future Parks as a ‘fast followers’ network for Scotland. If you’re based in Scotland and work for a local authority in a greenspace or parks role, please get in touch to receive info about future Forum meetings

First published in CJS Focus on Greenspace in association with Fields in Trust on 21 May 2018

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Posted On: 21/05/2018

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