Funding for parks in need of reform, report warns

According to a joint report by Nesta, Heritage Lottery Fund and the Big Lottery Fund, new models for maintaining and financing public parks could offer viable alternatives for Britain’s parks to remain sustainable.

The report, entitled Learning to Rethink Parks reviews the findings from an 18 month programme designed to test new ways for Britain’s parks to source other funding initiatives, other than local authority funding.

The programme, named ‘Rethinking Parks’, gave a share of £1 million in grant funding to 11 UK parks in addition to specialist support to explore innovative ways of raising money and reducing costs. It experimeted with a number of different models, including greater use of herbaceous and wild meadow planting, public donations, mobilising volunteers and friends groups to help with maintenance and even the creation of a pop-up meeting space.

The report analyses the lessons learned from the Rethinking Parks programme and makes a number of recommendations. In particular, it calls on park teams to involve people, park users, local businesses and residents when designing and delivering new ideas, which should be tested with small-scale prototypes.

The study also urged the government and other policy-makers to encourage innovation and appropriate risk taking across the sector by sharing good practice and making more funding available.

Lydia Ragoonanan, programme manager of Rethinking Parks at Nesta, said: “Britain's public parks need new sources of income and ways to reduce costs if they are to remain free and open.

“Rethinking Parks was designed to test ways to supplement existing funding. We now have a better understanding of the ideas with potential, as well as useful insights for the wider sector. Above all, the programme has shown us the importance of creating a space for parks to experiment, innovate and take chances.”