Paul. A. Rabbitts    

Author, Parks Historian & Public Speaker

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Success, leadership and more change?

Posted on 1 October, 2017 at 5:55 Comments comments (0)

As I was updating my website and pondering the successes of the year and looking back, it got me thinking about the essence of leadership, generating success and the management of change. Globally, we see varying degrees of leadership and celebrations of successes. Trump.... his leadership style is combative and he is celebration of success is more likely to be a hole in one at one of his courses. He is difficult to fathom out. North Korea is another style - leadership by fear, and celebrations of power, war and control; closer to home, Theresa May - leadership without any real control, without inspiration and looking over her shoulder, weak and uninspiring; and then Jeremy Corbyn - leadership of the growing masses, almost by hysteria, but followed by many who see the man but perhaps not the essence behind the man. All different styles, all celebrating successes where they can and rightly so. 

Closer to home, I work for an authority with strong leadership, from the top downwards and successes are celebrated. I recently had to do a presentation on leadership and it did get me thinking again about it more and especially about styles of leadership. There are many styles to choose from. Have a look here and what style I felt I was. I liked no. 5 and 11 in particular and I felt this matched my personality as a typical MBTI as a strong ENFP. (Look up Myers Briggs types to understand this). My presentation was based around leading styles and how you have to adapt and flex those styles for different circumstances, and the teams and individuals you are leading - I was taught I would have to flex and stretch and move out of my comfort zones and I like to think I do. It was an interesting presentation and I thoroughly enjoyed it. 

So to successes. There have been many I have been party to this year at Watford and in my own 'doings'. Its always great to be invited to speak at conferences and workshops and I was honoured to speak in Stirling and at Tatton Park this year on bandstands and parks leadership respectively. At Watford, 11 Green Flags which is no mean feat for a small Borough like us and I insist we stretch and push and push. I do feel its important along with the whole ethos of Green Flag. We won a partnership award with Veolia our commercial partner this summer too as well as were a finalist in another category with APSE. It is important to celebrate success and shout about them. Be heard and be seen. Why? Because change happens and when things also go wrong, it is often what people focus on. Change is afoot and things have gone wrong or not as well. My paddling pools in Cassiobury are a great success but there have been challenges and criticisms and we have to face these, remembering that despite the successes come those who will criticise. Changes have been made. More changes are coming. Transformation is underway globally, nationally, regionally, locally and personally. Leadership has never been more important, strong leadership and transformational leadership. There are many poor examples we see everyday ("its an island, surrounded by water, big water, ocean water.....") and we must learn from it. 

So I will celebrate my own successes, I will continue to be No 5 and 11 but flex when I need to too and I will embrace change with the caveat if its change that has a negative effect on my own world, I will be brave enough to change direction. 

Green Flag Celebrations in Cassiobury Park 2017

The importance of believing in what you feel strongly about


Cassiobury Park Pools opened 1st July 2017 - a success


The Horticulture Week Custodian Awards at Woburn - winners!!


Strong Leadership - and celebrating 11 Green Flags


Tab loves her job!!


Parklife threatened...an end to austerity?

Posted on 15 July, 2017 at 8:20 Comments comments (0)

I am a great lover of parks and the ingredients that make up a great park. My fascination with the bandstand is undoubted as well as the parkitecture within. A few weeks ago, I visited Birkenhead Park, the grandad of our greatest parks, designed by Joseph Paxton and today remains the model for what makes a viable and healthy park. I loved it, but not because of the features within it but the complete design of it. I had heard that its design was simply stunning and its features were outstanding, but this park had something else – it was the total ‘sense of the place’ – the way I was led around it, the landscape opened up then closed around me, views opened up, the twists, the turns and the surprises. It was incredible. I don’t remember feeling like that before in such a park. It was a windy day – very windy, quite late on and I did have the park primarily to myself, but saw dog walkers, joggers, lovers, children, teenagers, office workers rushing home – it embraced all aspects of parklife I know and appreciate and more. It was and is a Paxton masterpiece. So, why am I pontificating about Paxton and Birkenhead in particular? Birkenhead is across the Mersey from Liverpool and like many towns and cities across the UK, is struggling. I was in the area Green Flag Judging - two on the Wirral and one in Liverpool. It was bittersweet as I failed one park and passed the other two but I know that boroughs across the UK are struggling with mounting funding crises – having to meet a vast array of agendas and having to prioritise. The loss of revenue support grant – continued austerity or so called austerity, and authorities like Liverpool, Bristol and Newcastle cutting parks budgets, always an easy hit – by up to 90%. What was shocking on my visit was that the Liverpool Park I passed was managed and maintained by Liverpool ONE, and was not a typical local authority managed or funded park – it was central to a major commercial retail zone, it was immaculate and highly maintained, and well loved by the transient community that use it. But look behind the commercial heart of Liverpool and parks like Sefton Park, Stanley Park, Calderstones Park, Newsham Park and Walton Hall Park are suffering. Depleted resources, staff cuts and the return of the downward spiral of despair. This was none more emphasised than the article in the Guardian last weekend – link https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/jul/09/the-end-of-park-life-as-we-know-it-the-battle-for-britains-green-spaces-rowan-moore?CMP=fb_gu" target="_blank">here – ‘The end of Parklife as we know it’ – it was the best written article I have read in a long time on the future of our parks. Cracks are appearing in so called austerity, but is it too late? The government we have in power (that no one wants) are obsessed with Brexit, so self -obsessed on saving their own skins and can quite happily conjure up 10 billion to keep them in power yet cannot find a single penny to save one of our most important institutions - the public park – the one institution that ticks every single box of nearly every single local authority priority – health, economy, education, environment, culture, heritage, climate, biodiversity, community, cohesion, arts – every single one. It is so obvious. It is time they responded to the recent public inquiry and reversed the impact of so-called austerity and started to fund local authorities once again in allowing them to provide decent parks for our many local communities.


Parks Inquiry? History repeated

Posted on 15 February, 2017 at 19:30 Comments comments (1)

The Public Parks Inquiry is completed. 

So, after waiting months, an incredible amount of submissions on the future of parks submitted to DCLG, and then the anticipation of something? What would be that something?  Its conclusion was as follows:-


The significant interest in, and the overwhelming response to, our inquiry is a clear indication of just how strongly people feel about their local parks, how much they value them, and how important it is that action is taken to safeguard and secure the future of England’s parks and green spaces. Our witnesses—individuals, friends groups, local authorities, and other bodies—describe parks as being at a tipping point. As Cllr Trickett of Birmingham City Council told us: “We have been innovative and we have looked at alternatives, but the cuts are in very great danger of tilting the balance too far”.265 If action is taken, and appropriate priority given to parks, we do not believe it is too late to prevent a period of decline. However, if the value of parks and their potential contribution are not recognised, then the consequences could be severe for some of the most important policy agendas facing our communities today. 136.There is, clearly, no ‘one size fits all’ solution. Responsibility for parks lies primarily with local authorities. We believe that local authorities are best placed to make decisions which are appropriate for their local circumstances. However, within a context of declining local authority budgets, we believe that there is a role for central government to play in providing vision, leadership and coordination, facilitating the sharing of lessons learned and best practice, and ensuring that the role of parks, their contribution, and their function as just one element of our wider green infrastructure networks, is recognised.


The findings have told us nothing new at all.  Bullet points that I picked up on:-


We recognise that parks have traditionally been seen as financial liabilities for local authorities, and understand that assessing the value of parks to their communities in wider terms can be complex. Parks are not financial liabilities. They are financial assets, they are community assets and in comparison to most other services provided by Local Authorities they are incredibly cheap to provide. Cost per user is pence in comparison to the delivery of a waste service or a leisure centre. 


In the planning and management of parks, local authorities must engage effectively in dialogue with their communities to assess and understand their needs, and to explain the decisions which they take. We have been doing this for the last 20 years since the advent of Green Flag - not even mentioned in the summary or conclusions??? Talk about teaching us to suck eggs! 


We believe that addressing the challenges which face the parks sector in a way which secures a sustainable future for England’s parks may require fundamental service transformation, which takes into account the wider value and benefits which parks deliver, beyond their amenity and leisure value. We have received a wide range of suggestions for alternative funding sources for parks, and examples of different approaches to parks management. A recent report by Dr Katy Layton Jones summarised that despit there being attempts at finding alternative funding models such as Trusts, ALMO's, community asset transfers etc, the core method in funding parks is in fact the tried and tested method - a local authority model with adequate funding to provide a decent quality service. Rethinking Parks by Nesta in my humble view really gave us nothing - it scratched the surface and the figures saved were a pittance. The scale of cuts in places in Newcastle and other large authorities are simply abhorrent. Transferring the 'problem' to another organisation such as the National Trust is a bold move. I am not sure its the answer. Nationally it has to be decent funded parks managed by Local Authorities. 


We recognise, in principle, the benefits of designating senior elected members and officials as parks champions with responsibility for highlighting and coordinating the contribution which parks make to the achievement of broader council objectives, and for preparing strategies for their parks and green spaces. We have all done this, BUT a strategy that is not underpinned by investment or funding is not worth the paper it is written on. A Parks Champion in a local authority - tried before - politicians come and go and a good politician can shout about the need for great parks and we have had successive parks ministers allegedly and they have achieved nothing - they come and go. 


We recommend that the Minister issues very clear guidance to local authorities that they should work collaboratively with Health and Wellbeing Boards, and other relevant bodies where appropriate, to prepare and publish joint parks and green space strategies. I like this and I think it is important. Local Authorities now have a role to play in Public Health Agenda and I do think there should be more collaborative work between Health Trusts and Local Authorities - decent parks means decent health, the evidence is overwhelming. My angst here is the NHS is an alleged mess, underfunded and overstretched but if they could be persuaded long term of the savings that would be made by working with parks providers, and allocating 'budget' to preventative health care (quality green spaces, community activators, sport, activities, health works etc), there could be some real inroads made. My hope from the inquiry was this could be something revolutionary. Remember in 1833 with the Select Committee for Public Walks, the reason why we got parks was to improve public health. I hope the minister picks up on this. 


We welcome the steps taken by the parks sector in England to fill the gap left by CABE Space and Greenspace, such as the establishment of the Parks Alliance and the National Federation of Parks and Green Spaces, the Future Parks project led by the National Trust, and the work undertaken as part of Nesta’s Rethinking Parks programme to bring together a database of people and groups with an interest in parks. Are we getting CABE Space back? The government took it off us. I didn't see any reference to the HLF in the conclusions either. I am sure its in the body of the report. Or Green Flag? The Parks Alliance are made up of a small number of volunteers who work in the parks sector. We have APSE but do we have a body representing us? lobbying for us? How we miss ILAM!! 


We believe that early priorities for the group should include: establishing and maintaining an online parks information hub to make it easier for local authorities to find out about what other authorities are doing, to facilitate the sharing of learning and good practice, and to provide signposting to other sources of information or advice; and working with the Local Government Association to develop and implement options for establishing and supporting national or regional park manager forums in England, learning from the approach taken in Scotland. Yes we had that with CABE Space and their work was incredible. That information still exists. 


In my conclusion, the inquiry was comprehensive, it raised our hopes but the outcome is that it has given us nothing. It was reinforced to me tonight with a Facebook update from the Friends of Small Heath Park in Birmingham who are witnessing the wholesale removal of shrub beds in their local park - a historic park for many reasons, because the City Council cannot afford to maintain them. The responses were highly critical of the council yet many if not most are left with some very stark choices.  We have to fight to survive or the work many of us have done over the last 20 years will be undone. One glimmer of light I do have and I frequently cite is that many of our parks are 100 years old or more and whilst like life itself, they ebb and flow, they have survived decades of use and abuse, they have outlived governements, cuts, mismanagement, world wars, riots, vandalism and the majority of them are still with us. History tells us this BUT we should learn from history - it would save so much time, effort and money by so many (or so few of us today). #myparkmatters. 

The Report is here 




End of the year, the future holds?

Posted on 12 December, 2016 at 14:35 Comments comments (0)

I took the day off work today to go Xmas shopping. A day beckoned in Centre MK, and was bemused as to why we needed to go as most of it has been done online. Anyway, it wasn't that bad and 4 hours later, all done. What gets me every time I go to Centre MK is we pass by a number of regular rough sleepers every time. I pass by one every day going into Watford when I use the train. As I write this blog (which is going somewhere yet to be decided), Crisis at Christmas for homeless people has just been on. I live in a lovely house, we have spent too much decorating it and on presents. Its funny where our priorities lie - kind of happily spend £20 quid on sparkly lights and plastic santas and deer, yet people homeless on the streets. Its upsetting and hard to know what to do to make it all change. Change.... I don't mind change but I would love to change these kind of issues. 

So where to go? 2016 has been a world of change. The world has changed. Brexit... (no one saw that coming)... Trump...(no one saw that coming)... the death of Castro... the destruction of Aleppo... the chaotic world of politics (Cameron gone, May in, Corbyn in and out and back in)... the most incredible Olympics ever... ! Personally, changes at work, departures including my boss imminently, a new one for me, a year tackling pretty chronic depression and sorting myself out at last with the odd relapse, decisions to make over my career and where to go next. Change is inevitable no matter what. 

I am looking forward to 2017, I really am. I won't let Trump affect me, or Brexit, I can't change politics or what happens on the other side of the world. I have my family and 3 stunning children who make me so proud. I have some great projects ahead at work, really good projects - 3 books to look forward to publishing, more bandstands to find and visit, another holiday to Mallorca, some great gigs (Kiss, Green Day and Black Sabbath), graduation of my 2 eldest - jeez graduation, thats a thought. 

So returning to the homeless I see. I can't change things, but I can and do care, I will give and I will donate and if I can even let those who need to know, know, I will. I will always care and hope things can change for the good. 

Love to all

Rabbitts 


The future of our parks rests in our hands?

Posted on 31 July, 2016 at 13:50 Comments comments (1)

This blog has being coming for a while now and for a number of reasons:-

 

  • Watford has been lucky (actually not lucky, but has worked bloody hard) to be awarded 8 Green Flag Awards this month and I attended a great ceremony at Waltham Forest Town Hall followed by Watersmeet in Rickmansworth with colleagues to pick up our awards
  • Watford has won a great award for best Parks Restoration Project in 2016 for the Watford Parks Inprovement Programme
  • The wonderful feedback on my Great British Parks book which I am so proud of. 
But it was 2 other issues that have got me this week. 
  • A group from Lancaster contacted me about the apalling state of their local park and their bandstand within it and the fact that the local council, Lancaster City Council are refusing to work with a local group and they actually feel discriminated against because they are in a more deprived area. Ryelands Park in Lancaster was in my view a dump. The bandstand was the worst example of wanton vandalism I have seen in years by a council. Yet the council seem to ignore its heriatge here, the needs of a local community and seem more intent on dedicating the park to monster truck kind of events and to ignore community needs. 
  • The announcement at last that there is now to be a Government public inquiry into the state of our public parks - link below. 
What is so significant about all this. I will tell you why? We now have 1,686 Green Flag Parks in the country and we have invested over £750 in historic parks through the Heritage Lottery Fund Parks for People Programme. All this in 20 years and one hell of an achievement. So all is good then? No! Clearly not. Austerity. Budget cuts. Revenue Support Grants going. Parks at a tipping point. Despite the investment and despite the high number of Green Flag Parks - we have 27,000 parks in the country and their overall standards are slipping. 
Check out these headlines

"Councils might be desperate for cash, but charging parkrun isn’t the solution" Guardian 15th April 2016

"Reimagining park life: how Britain’s green spaces are scrambling for cash" Guardian 18th Feb 2016

These are just some of the headlines. There are many more. This has been creeping up on us since austerity became the norm. People are really worried, very worried. We are smack bang in the middle of a funding crisis. A lot of work has been done to look at better ways of funding parks. 

But in MOST cases, the answer is decent funding for decent parks and managed by local authorities. The sector is struggling to be heard and has one singular voice - the Parks Alliance but not much else. 

A glimmer of light on the horizon? a new governement in place - same policies possibly but a new Prime Minister and Cabinet who might listen. What have we got though - a public inquiry into public parks. This is so important and if you care about our natural health service then you need to play your part, whether as an individual, or as an organisation, group, Friends Group, local authority. Our green spaces and public parks matter. Without quality parks and green spaces, we are all less well off. Remember why we had public parks in the first place? Easily cut, easily lost? without doubt and we would be worse off without them. 

The inquiry link is below. Please do your bit. 

http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/communities-and-local-government-committee/inquiries/parliament-2015/public-parks-16-17/


 

The end???

Posted on 8 July, 2016 at 16:15 Comments comments (0)

Its been an interesting few weeks. Actually interesting is no where near a suitable description for what we have all just witnessed and been subject to. The papers are full of it... the news is full of it... people are talking non stop about it... in offices, on buses, on trains, at home and in restaurants. I am not talking about Top Gear... no... Cliff Williams, bass guitarist in AC/DC has decided to call it a day. Its probably the end of a great band, one of the greatest bands we have ever seen. Malcolm has gone, Brian has gone, Phil is no longer 'available' so all that remains is Angus. They should stonow and lets remember them at their height. From TNT to RIP, I have grown up with AC/DC. The arguments? Bon or Brian? Highway to Hell or Back in Black? Angus or Malcolm? No answer to any of them. 

I am ignoring Brexit, guns, Corbyn, bombs and all that bollocks. Long live AC/DC 


A common potato.....??

Posted on 12 June, 2016 at 17:20 Comments comments (0)

In the last 12-18 months, I don't think I have seen so much in the media, online and on social media and so many people commentating on such wide and major issues. There does seem to be a rise in worldwide issues that I must admit, make it a challenging and dangerous world we now live in.

Leave or Remain Campaign

Every day we hear reasons why to leave or why to remain. I have no intention of giving any reasons for either because I simply don't know and not sure which way to vote yet. One thing for sure, if we leave, there will be ramifications at government level, but I am bored stiff with it. I don't care what Boris, Gove, Dyson or Hawking think - no one agrees and the reporting in the media has left people only confused and probably bored. ( Whilst writing this - a BBC Referendum special has popped up!)

Donald Trump

This really does worry me. Are the American's that dim to vote Trump in? I know we had George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan but surely Trump in the White House. At least we realised Farage was a cretinous moron and got shot. Lets hope our yankee dudes do the same. But worrying. 

Football hooliganism

I was so looking forward to the Euro Championships but the sights we have seen are sickening. The rest of Europe probably want us out of the EU now. Life in North Korea actually looks appealing when you see the mayhem and riots in France. Perhaps if we had the courage to actually take out a few of the low life scum with a couple of well placed shots on the perpetrators, they would soon dispel or think twice. 

Immigration

This country was built on immigration, the British Empire was built on people moving freely across the world as were other empires. History gives many examples of immigration. But we see immigrants, migrants and refugees - all different. Again, I do not have a specific view, but am a regular visitor to London, one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world and its what makes the city....not what we see in EastEnders. Reading a bit about Ukraine today and gay rights - they have none - and watching Ukraine tonight vs Germany - no black players on their team or on the Russian Team. 

BHS

Disgusting and corporate greed at its worst. Having said that, BHS have never modernised, dated and untrendy and unfashionable. But how oh how Dominic Chappell managed to buy it as a bankrupt. How easy would it be for me to get a bank loan or mortgage with a previous bankruptcy but he can buy BHS for a quid. 

Terrorism 

The IRA, Basque separists ETA, Al Quaeda and now ISIS... they come and they go as history tells us. But they taint history and will be remembered in history but that is what they all become - simply history and civilisation will always continue. 

Top Gear

I won't watch it anymore. Clarkson was a cock, Chris Evans is a cock. 

 Axl Rose joining AC/DC

A good decision? I was one of the many who felt the mighty DC should have stopped once Jonno and Malcolm could no longer continue, but I have not seen a single bad review since Axl joined for the last few gigs and YouTube shows some great gigs. 

In conclusion

Lots of common potatos out there. Mostly I don't care. I don't trust politicians, I don't trust the media, everyone has a view but all I want to know is will Axl Rose record with AC/DC?? Probably not. I am off to bed with my Daily Mail and Radio 4 and my visa application to North Korea. 



The ingredients of a great park?

Posted on 9 May, 2016 at 16:30 Comments comments (1)

A blog that emanates from a great meeting with Historic England today in Swindon, and with their Head of Publishing. Why? Unlike many history publishers, Historic England are not prolific but seem to concentrate on quality, somewhat more academic but cover such great subjects such as Turkish Baths, Breweries, Cinemas and Seaside architecture. Its diverse and they are keen to widen their portfolio on parks hence the new book on the social history of the bandstand. 

But the discussion widened when chatting about the ingredients of a park and work that has been done on related subjects:-

  • Lidos and outdoor swimming pools - once a common feature in many of our public parks, most having disappeared but some still present in parks and in a few odd cases, restored. Having seen Brockwell Lido 2 weeks ago, I was taken aback by its popularity and its design. A lovely book available here called Liquid Assets - The Lidos and Open Air Swimming Pools of Britain by Janet Smith. 
  • Bowling Greens - who would have thought that the bowling greens would have a distinct history of their own. Again a great book and piece of work Bowled Over - the Bowling Greens of Britain - a book available here by Hugh Hornby. 
So what is missing? Clearly a more autoritative book on bandstands, which led to a discussion on "parkitechture" - gates, railings, fountains, glass houses, aviaries, buildings, lakes, refreshment rooms, statues and monuments. A book was done on the Buildings and Monuments of the Royal Parks but good luck if you can find it. 
So the purpose of this rambling blog? After the meeting I went to have a look at the Town Gardens in Swindon, and despite its need of investment, one of the loveliest parks I have seen with.... a bandstand, ornate park gates, fountain, statues, ornamental bridge, sunken garden, aviary, bowling green, amphitheatre and was simply beautiful. It was a perfect example of "parkitechture". Book No 10 now in gestation. 

The bandstand

Statue of? not sure but lovely

Main entrance 


The currently closed bridge 

Gates looking derelict but wonderful design

The amphitheatre

Fountain and pond

Parks as evolving landscapes

Posted on 28 April, 2016 at 15:10 Comments comments (0)

Interesting times in the world of parks, as always, and lots of views on the park run blog which I posted on Facebook. It certainly raised the profile of parks so clearly nothing like a bit of controversy to raise the ante. 

It led me to think about how parks have evolved over the last 150 years and the introductions, losses, changes, re-introductions there has been in these great landscapes. From the earliest parks such as Sefton Park, Victoria Park, Derby Arboretum and Birkenhead Park, there were no sports facilities in their earliest iterations and they were introduced over time. This was the same with the noble bandstand. Children's play areas (or gymnasiums) at the turn of the century, then cafes, paddling pools, Lidos, sports pavilions were all added. In other words, they have constantly evolved to suit changing times and tastes, and usually within the structure of an existing landscape. Of course in the 60s and 70s we went astray and much rubbish was introduced and fine features lost. Much of this has since been corrected as a result of the lottery. But its a struggle. Why? Getting local communities to buy into change is a challenge itself. This week has enforced my view that while we might see an opportunity to improve, a local community may not get this at all. In Watford, we are introducing a brand new hub building that is a challenge to fit into a very historic landscape. One of the friends I spoke to this week said she still had mixed views about it but had enough faith we had considered this well enough. It a brave decision as it is a modern and contemporary building. On the other hand, at another location, on a redundant playing field, we are looking to introduce a new skate park, BMX facility and cycle hub / cafe. A number of users are distinctly unhappy as they see it as a loss of open space and a place to let dogs run free. To ensure we get it right, its important to look at history and learn from mistakes and to be inspired by successes elsewhere. Parks have evolved and they continue to evolve. Today we have outdoor gyms, skateparks, community hubs, 3G pitches, adventure playgrounds, large scale events and provided they respect the landscape and are done well, then parks need to continue to evolve to ensure their long term survival. Trips to Stoke and Derby this week emphasised this whilst looking at BMX tracks and skate parks in some great parks. 

Park managers need to be innovative, bold, challenging, respectful and above all, ensure we learn from past mistakes but be inspired by what we see around us.... when its done well. 

Alvaston Park BMX Track in Derby

Minet Park Cycle Hub - Hillingdon

Finsbury Park, London

Chiswick Gardens cafe 

Paying for parks?

Posted on 13 April, 2016 at 16:30 Comments comments (0)

There has been much in the news this last few days about a Parish Council in Bristol who have taken the decision to charge for their weekly park run. Check out this link. http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/the-running-blog/2016/apr/13/why-charging-for-parkrun-is-a-terrible-idea

So is this a good idea? Is it the thin end of the wedge? Are Central government cuts now so severe that local authorities are considering charging you for even taking a run in your local park at 9-00am on a Saturday morning? Now don't get me wrong but parks do cost, they are not cheap to maintain and they require ongoing investment. We know that millions of pounds have been cut from parks budgets since what seems to be the beginning of time, but lets consider what parks were conceived for? The health and wellbeing of local people, a rational recreation, places to breathe, places for wildlife, for active or indeed passive recreation, for fresh air, escapism, to walk and promenade, to meet and to play, to excercise and to socialise. Fads have come and gone and come again; we nearly lost many of our most important parks in the 70s, 80s and 90s but since then we have invested nearly £800 million of lottery money in saving them. But its all changing again. Cuts are so severe in places like Liverpool, Newcastle, Manchester, Birmingham and across the majority of local authorities, that as the cuts go deeper, they are now looking at better ways of making money. This includes more events in parks, increasing charges for park hire, more funfairs, cafe franchises, sponsorship, car parking charges and so on. It is unavoidable.

BUT lets look at the other side of the coin. Park runs - the whole essence of a park run is to encourage the least active members of society to start exercising regularly. We have an obesity crisis in this country.  The current rate of obesity and overweight conditions suggest the cost to the NHS could increase from between £6 billion and £8 billion in 2015 to between £10 billion and £12 billion in 2030, a recent study has found. Check this link out for Public Health England's views on the economics of obesity. https://www.noo.org.uk/NOO_about_obesity/economics" target="_blank">http://https://www.noo.org.uk/NOO_about_obesity/economics

It makes stark reading. This is serious stuff. But lets go back to why parks are important and how history repeats itself and how we never seem to learn from history. Victoria Park, Tower Hamlets, London

The first official acknowledgment of the need for a park in the East End of London came in the 1839 Annual Report of the Registrar General of Births, Deaths and Marriages, which recorded a mortality rate far higher than for the rest of London, brought about by massive overcrowding, insanitary conditions and polluted air.

The report stated: "… a park in the East End of London would probably diminish the annual deaths by several thousands… and add several years to the lives of the entire population."

So back to the park run in Stoke Gifford. A small parish with 15,000 parishioners who a number have complained about wear and tear, car parking, users of the park from elsewhere (why is that an issue?) and that they monopolise the parks paths every Saturday and Sunday morning at 9-00am. 

This is wrong on so many levels. The costs saved in the medium and long term across the UK by getting people fitter cannot be underestimated. If we are going to charge park runs which are run primarily by volunteers (I have them in Cassiobury Park in Watford), do we start charging dog walkers, one of the biggest user groups in parks - who empties the dog poo bins free of charge? Do we start charging the Sunday morning men in lycra on bikes for use of our highways? Those who hire pitches etc pay to play because they are part of national governing bodies like the local and regional Football associations etc but to consider charging park runs is simply wrong and a huge backward step in the free use of our public parks. 



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