Securing the future of Newcastle’s parks, allotments and green spaces
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By James Cross, CEO of Urban Green Newcastle
Funding for parks, allotments and green spaces – just like many other public services – has decreased significantly in recent years. It’s an unfortunate trend across many areas of the country.
Here in Newcastle upon Tyne, spending reduced by a huge 90% in just seven years, posing a serious threat to the long-term future of the city’s open spaces.
Thankfully, Newcastle City Council saw the warning signs and took significant action to prevent the city’s green spaces suffering further decline. Working in partnership with the National Trust and National Lottery Heritage Fund, Newcastle City Council began an extensive consultation exercise on the future of the city’s parks and allotments, gathering feedback from park users, local businesses and key stakeholders.
The results led to the development of an outline business plan for a new independent charity to manage, maintain, restore, develop and protect the city’s parks and allotments; one that would operate completely separate from the council and work to ensure Newcastle’s open spaces could be enjoyed by future generations to come.
In April 2019, Newcastle’s 33 parks and 61 allotments sites transferred from Newcastle City Council to Newcastle Parks and Allotments Trust – now rebranded as Urban Green Newcastle. A nine year funding package was also agreed giving Urban Green Newcastle time to develop and put in place a sustainable business model.
We represent a new approach to securing the future of parks, allotments and green spaces. As one of the first organisations of our kind in the country, we’re aware people are looking to us to set the benchmark.
Urban Green Newcastle’s mission is simple; to connect people to nature and improve the health and wellbeing of all families and communities in Newcastle by providing safe and well maintained parks and allotments.
At the heart of the charity is our desire to work in collaboration. We want everyone with an interest in Newcastle’s parks, allotments and green spaces to be able to contribute to their future. We’re doing this by holding a series of consultation events for all 33 of the parks we manage, so park users can share ideas and help develop a vision for each one.
We’re also working very closely with all the fantastic volunteers, Friends of Groups and associations that play such a key role in helping to keep our green spaces vibrant, open to all and welcoming spaces.
I’m happy to say there’s been a huge amount of progress in the past ten months since the charity was founded. We’ve committed to spend £2.5m improving Newcastle’s parks and allotments over the next five years and half a million pounds is currently being rolled out on repairs to footpaths, tree management, stonework repairs and much, much more.
Working in partnership with Newcastle City Council, we’ve invested in our play areas so local communities have access to new equipment they can enjoy.
We’ve also listened to park users and started to address the problem of littering by installing new ‘smart’ bins in our parks. As well as having a bigger capacity, they’ll also tell us when they need to be emptied so we can direct bin collections to the areas that need it most. It’s a more cost effective and efficient approach to managing litter across our parks.
We’re currently looking at how we can introduce more recycling in our parks. Around 90% of our litterbin waste is recycled but we’d like to see that increase.
One of our key commitments as Urban Green Newcastle is to make our open spaces self-sustainable so they no longer rely on public funding. I think that’s essential if we want them to be around in the future. Our approach is to reinvest any revenue raised and donations made into our parks and allotments, so they stay beautiful, open and remain free for everyone.
We’ll do this by running an exciting, year round, events programme in our parks, one that lets park users pursue their own passions and interests. We’ll also work closely with businesses, funders and organisatons that want to invest in our green spaces. Urban Green Newcastle is also taking an active role in the city’s campaign to become the UK’s next National Park City, reflecting the ambition of everyone that lives and works in Newcastle to celebrate our open spaces and be better connected to nature.
I personally think it’s really important that people understand the value of our parks, allotments and green spaces; the impact they have on our physical and mental wellbeing, as well as the role they play in protecting the environment.
That’s why Urban Green Newcastle has commissioned its own set of natural capital accounts, which we’ll be publishing later this year. They make for fascinating reading. I think it’s one of the ways we can reinforce the essential role parks and allotments play in our society and why they should be cared for, invested in and protected for future generations.
If you would like to know more about Urban Green Newcastle, please visit our website, www.urbangreennewcastle.org. If you have any questions for me or the Urban Green Newcastle team please do get in touch, we’d love to hear from you.