New fund supports innovation in public parks

croppedlydiaThis month Nesta, the Big Lottery Fund and the Heritage Lottery Fund launched Rethinking Parks, a programme to identify and support the best new business models for public parks.

We’re offering a total of £1m, and up to £100,000 per project, for the best new ideas that will sustain our public parks in to the next decade.

Funding for services like parks is set to fall by 60% or more over the next decade, so we need to act soon.  In particular we need to find new ways of generating income for parks, new ways of bringing under-utilised spaces back to life, and new ways of involving communities in supporting their local green space.

None of that sounds easy. It’ll take energy, commitment and passion to rethink how a public park is used and funded. And it’ll need new collaborations of communities, social enterprise, local business and the public sector.

So it was encouraging to hear about many such collaborations at a recent event hosted by the University of Sheffield in partnership with the Parks and Countryside Service at Sheffield City Council, Green Estate and South Yorkshire Forest Partnership SEEDS project.

We visited Lowfield Park, where FieldLab Sheffield is working with private companies and academic institutions to install a timed sprint track for runners. The benefit of this collaboration is that sports companies can literally test their ideas in the field, whilst the local community can use new and exciting sports equipment at no cost. Elsewhere in the park there’s now a well-loved community centre (the U-Mix Centre )

On the other side of Sheffield, it was a pleasure to visit the Green Estate regeneration project in Manor Fields Park. It keeps costs down though a clever mix of land management techniques from wildflower meadows to the use of traditional shire horses to remove fallen timber and do the logging in urban woodlands.

Of course the green city of Sheffield isn’t alone in surfacing innovative new models to sustain our parks. Up and down the country people are trying new things out. Our recent report here at Nesta surfaces twenty examples from around the UK on how to do things differently – from Lambeth’s cooperative parks to Ealing’s park maintained by a fishing charity in lieu of free licenses to fish.

Each of these innovations required collaboration – often of an unusual sort, with groups that weren’t used to working together, demonstrating the trust and openness that we will need to tackle the size of the challenge we face for our parks.

As a nation of twitchers, gardeners, nature and dog lovers, we all have an interest in preserving our green space and improving our public parks. But we also need to put aside our individual cultures, preferences or norms to Rethink Parks.

If you have an idea or collaboration to Rethink Parks, then visit our webpage for details of how to apply for your share of the £1m Rethinking Parks Fund.




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