Friends United

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Logo: National Federation of Parks and Green Spaces

Slowly but surely, especially over the last 20 years, an inspirational grassroots movement has been arising of people dedicated to improving, caring for, protecting, animating, appreciating and publicising, and taking some ‘ownership’ of their own local green spaces in all kinds of ways.

Let’s be Friends

There are now over 7,000 local ‘Friends of’ groups, each collectively contributing and ‘adding value’ to their sites to a greater or lesser extent, depending on their capacity. Most are in urban areas, but some even span entire National Parks such as the Friends of Pembrokeshire Coast.

Whether called ‘Friends’, ‘societies’ or ‘user groups’. and although every site and every group is different and unique, there’s a common thread which knits this movement together – communities are essential to the present and future of our public spaces, and they are determined to show this by getting more and more engaged, involved, and empowered. And of course greenspace staff and Friends Groups need to work closely together.

The UK friends groups movement: co-ordination, representation & services. Credit: National Federation of Parks and Green Spaces
Credit: National Federation of Parks and Green Spaces

Vital spaces under threat

Our local green spaces are an essential and unique service for people of all ages, backgrounds and interests, promoting relaxation, recreation and play, wildlife and biodiversity, attractive walking and cycling routes, green jobs and skills, heritage, flood control, health and social well-being, and community cohesion.

However, for a number of years alarm has been growing about the serious long-term damage being caused by devastating cuts to green space budgets for staff and maintenance, and the lack of funding and investment by local and national government. If not reversed, this underfunding crisis will cause them to become neglected, go into serious decline and become problem spaces abandoned by park users and plagued by vandalism - with many sites or parts of sites even being sold off.

The Covid-19 crisis over the last year, whilst demonstrating the vital importance and popularity of greenspace, has served to underline the desperate need to ensure adequate staffing, resources and public engagement. This is a challenge all who care about greenspace must face and overcome together.

Supporting each other

The National Federation of Parks and Green Spaces is the democratic umbrella organisation promoting and co-ordinating the ever-growing movement of local Friends groups. We exist to champion their activities, issues and concerns, and to amplify their passionate and knowledgeable voices.

The Federation was set up to enable this movement to share learning, develop good practice, and strengthen our grassroots organisation, coordination and co-operation. Most importantly, we raise the issues impacting on the UK’s 27,000 public parks and green spaces. We want to see active and influential Friends Groups for every public green space, and such groups sharing good practice and supporting each other through area Forums in every Local Authority area.

To this end we are developing Parks Community UK as our peer-to-peer ‘service arm’ to the grassroots. You can read more elsewhere in this magazine about the resources available.

Raising our voices together

Logo: Parks Community - helping UK friends groups thrive

We particularly support and work alongside other key ‘community-facing’ national greenspace organisations and their initiatives (such as Green Flag Awards, and Fields In Trust covenanting), and with sector-wide alliances to improve collaboration and lobbying over strategic issues.

Those who value our green spaces need to work together, to speak out and defend them, and to call for the effective action urgently needed at Government level. There is a Parks Charter backed by 24 national organisations – for example the Countryside Management Association, The Conservation Volunteers and Keep Britain Tidy - calling for parks to be designated a statutory service backed by adequate public funding and effective protection. Organisations are urged to sign up to it!

We also urge everyone to support and help build the Friends Groups’ movement in every locality and area throughout the UK.

Dave Morris

Chair, National Federation of Parks and Green Spaces. @ParksCommUK @natfedparks

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