There are thousands of us working out there delivering excellent parks and open spaces with a vast array of skills, with those in operations, developing strategy or delivering projects. Every so often we will ask someone in the sector to share their experiences and career, along with their hopes for the future.

Meet Paul Rabbitts – Interim Parks and Open Spaces Manager, Norwich City Council 


How did you get into parks?

At the age of 18, it was clear my A’Level results were not going to get me into St Andrew’s University to study English Literature, so I ended up at Sheffield City Polytechnic doing a degree in Geography for 3 years. The end of my course left me contemplating, what next? A Masters Degree in Landscape Architecture at Edinburgh University for the next 2 years. My first job was as a landscape architect in Jersey for a small private practice where I cut my teeth on the job. 2 1/2 years there I moved back to the mainland and joined Carlisle City Council as their first landscape architect and into their Parks and Countryside Department. I loved it here and it was in Carlisle I managed one of the first Urban Parks Programme Projects funded by the lottery. To cut a long story short, I was a pretty rubbish landscape architect, and evolved gradually over time into a fully fledged parkie!

How long have you worked in parks and tell us a bit about your career here?

2024 will be my 35th year working in the sector, and as I said above, I started out as a landscape architect. I suppose I still am one, although no longer in the Landscape Institute – too expensive!! From Jersey to Carlisle where my last role was Parks Development Officer, I then moved to Middlesbrough Council as Landscape Design Manager, heading up a team of parks development colleagues, landscape architects and open space managers, I was responsible for a vast amount of projects including the restoration of Albert Park, the building of the biggest skate park in the country among others. A quick dip back into consultancy at Halcrow as Principal Landscape and Recreation Consultant, working on park projects across the UK, I then started as Head of Parks at Watford for 11 years. I loved it here – a great council and I was responsible for a huge amount of projects including the £7.2 million restoration of Cassiobury Park, one of the top 10 parks in the UK. Time to move in 2021, I moved to Southend-on-Sea City Council as Head of Parks, but an authority in turmoil, I left and am now interim Parks Manager at Norwich, a very fine city with equally fine parks.

Greatest achievement and challenge in parks? 

Lots of achievements I am proud of. Increasing the no. of Green Flags in Watford from 3 to 17 in my time there, to the restoration of Cassiobury Park and the delivery of Oxhey Activity Park. Both of the latter are multi-award winning too. Challenges are many – budgets and finance, applying for grants, persuading national politicians parks need to be funded and keeping a high profile for the sector. Huge challenges for us all. Establishing the Parks Management Association with esteemed colleagues like Ian Baggot, Ed Curry, Stef Horne and Pip Reece, oh and the legend Chris Worman MBE has been challenging, but its rewarding. I just we had more time and resource to fulfil its potential.

If you had a money tree in your local park, what would you spend the fruits of the tree on?

Restoring every bandstand in the country and ensuring they were used lots!!

What do you do outside of work?

I write… lots of books, up to 36 now I think, usually on parks, local history, architecture and of course bandstands. I lecture and do public speaking to anyone that will listen to me, from Arts Societies to the WI. Music is my passion with probably over 6,000 albums now, including lots of vinyl – from AC/DC to ZZ Top – that gives you a clue to my music tastes.

Any advice for anyone considering a career in parks?

Oh it is THE best career. You won’t make your fortune but you will make people’s lives so much better.

Favourite park and why?

Richmond Park is outstanding. I love the Royal Parks – all of them. Outside of London, my local rec in Linslade is beautiful and a Green Flag Park. Birkenhead Park blows my mind every time I go, but I think one of my other faves is Hanley Park in Stoke-on-Trent, oh and also…. so many!!