Levelling Up, Getting Smarter and Getting Ahead

I know many of us who are Green Flag Judges have been out doing LUF Assessments for those lucky enough to receive the £85,000. I too, have been out and carried out 4 assessments in the NE, Sunderland, Blyth, Gateshead and Jarrow. All 4 sites I visited were worthy recipients and I enjoyed meeting colleagues who have the challenge of spending this money. I say a challenge because many of the sites require so much more funding to make a real distance and also the timeline set by DLUHC is very narrow. It was also apparent that finding the time and resource to do this was also a challenge. I have seen on social media other colleagues who have visited sites. What it reminds us of is the need for SIGNIFICANT funding, not the pittance that is being dished out here. And it is a pittance. I took a look at the recent pocket park designed here in Leighton Buzzard, the size of my living room and is now abandoned and full of weeds and of no use to anyone. FRUSTRATING!! makes me so angry.

BUT, the last couple of weeks, we have seen the FPA online conference arranged by the NLHF and NT and with over 1500 who registered for it. The feedback I have heard was good, mostly positive and well done to all those who were involved and contributed. Some fed back that it was at times ‘same old same old’ which can be said of many of the reports we hear on the benefit of parks, the latest Guardian article or journal we read. We know this, we have heard it so many times and we have lobbied, we have argued, we have presented our case for more funding, yet see no real changes. With the current chaos in Government, and austerity biting again, savage cuts due, Local Government unable to even afford statutory requirements in many locations, the future is looking bleak.

So what do we do? [as I pause as to how to answer this]….. I think we are wasting our time lobbying Government at this moment in time. Even Climate Change has dropped down their agenda, for the moment. So we need to reconsider:- my thoughts are:

  • Innovation – the concept of Smart Parks using digital technology. I had a fascinating conversation with Professor Edward Truch of Lancaster University about this concept last week and have been invited onto a working group to look into this further. I attach a report which outlines the thinking behind this and is very much linked to the concept of Smart Cities. You could argue that we already have some of these in place with Big Belly bins that tell us when they are full or sensors that count people visiting our parks. I’m a total technophobe but this needs looking at more.
  • The Health Agenda – I am seeing more Public Open Space Health Strategies appearing and this can only be good for the sector and is a way to increase our profile but also to lever in extra funding. Hells bells, after just finishing a new book on the history of parks, it is startling that we are having to revisit this, but let’s make sure our new best friends work in public health.
  • Networking more – getting more joined up. We HAVE to talk to each other more. I saw some great stuff while I was doing LUF assessments in the NE – a bird feeding and viewing station in Ridley Park in Blyth and the conversion of a bowls pavilion into a cafe were superb.
  • Upskilling on the less obvious. We should be learning how to lobby at a local level, or how to write a business plan for our service, how to market our service – when did we see a course on how to write a successful grant application? or how to set up a volunteer group? or write a franchise for an ice cream tender or cafe? Many I am sure are doing this and we learn on the job, but perhaps we need to look at wider skills to support our service?

With all this in mind, it is now time to take the PMA to the next level. We have many members signed up and have paid their £50 as well as Corporate Members signing up, but we now need the resource to take us to the next level and over the next few weeks will be looking to develop a grant application to the NLHF and others to give us this resource. We need to broaden the membership base, we need to develop further guidance, we need a number of initiatives developed and i know for a fact from speaking to colleagues, many of us simply cannot appoint to positions where they exist. This is a worry and this is something we must work on. As the bids develop, I will be coming to many of you for support and may also carry out another Survey Monkey of the sector to add value to a bid. We all have a role to play.

So with that in mind, please do consider how you can help and move this forward and help avoid the below, which really upsets me!


Smart Parks report.(2018) Truch, Sutanto[87]