Paul Rabbitts    

Author, Parks Historian & Speaker

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A NATION OF PARK BUILDERS AT CRISIS POINT??? AGAIN!

Posted on 16 March, 2019 at 19:15 Comments comments (0)

In the Autumn 1999 edition of Historic Gardens Review, Linden Thornton (now Groves) wrote an article ‘Gambling’s Gains’ describing the effect of the Heritage Lottery Fund’s ‘impressive impact’ on urban parks through its incredibly successful Urban Parks Programme, describing it as ‘its greatest success story’. Implemented in 1996, the now National Lottery Heritage Fund has invested over £900 million in the last 22 years into public parks. They have been the savior of some of our most important cultural landscapes. Yet in December 2017, they announced the closure of ring-fenced funding for public parks – the popular ‘Parks for People’ programme and in 2019 announced a new far more streamlined heritage programme aimed at a wider heritage sector, including public parks. This came after many years of austerity which saw cuts in many parks budgets nationwide, in places up to 90%. The loss of dedicated Lottery funds was seen by many as the ‘nail in the coffin’ for many parks professionals who have dedicated years of their professional lives in promoting public parks. However, let us go back to the very beginning and look at the wider context of public parks.


For centuries, public parks have played an important part in the social and civic life of communities. Public parks are deeply rooted in the physical fabric, spirit and identity of thousands of places across the country. The construction of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park for London 2012 provided the country with a rare opportunity to create a brand new public park. Providing the setting for the Olympic and Paralympic games, it was admired and enjoyed by millions who came to watch the Games. This new twenty-first century park is just a short distance from Victoria Park, London’s first public park, that was built in the nineteenth century. Both parks neatly frame the country’s long tradition of park-making, with one named after Queen Victoria, the nation’s first monarch to celebrate a Diamond Jubilee and the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park named after the nation’s only other monarch to celebrate the same achievement.

The public park, however, is deeply rooted in Britain’s Industrial Revolution and Queen Victoria’s reign witnessed an intense park-making period on a scale that has never been seen since. The second half of the nineteenth century saw an ambitious era of investment in the infrastructure and social fabric of towns and cities. Prominent landscape architects and park designers, including Edward Kemp, Edward Milner, John Gibson and Joseph Paxton, were designing and constructing many of the great Victorian public parks of the time - Gateshead’s Saltwell Park, People’s Park in Halifax and the celebrated Birkenhead Park in the Wirral to name but a few. All remain as a testament to this period of immense and creative civic investment for the public good. The government at the time formally recognised this need in the 1833 Select Committee on Public Walks. This urged towns and cities to develop public parks with legislation to support the purchase and dedication of land for this purpose. Whilst the committee expected that most of the funding should come first from private sources, it acknowledged that ‘it should be the duty of the Government to assist in providing for the health of the people’.

As towns and cities continued to grow, the Public Health Act of 1875 was passed by government to combat chronically poor living conditions and limit the spread of diseases through better sanitation. It provided the much-needed impetus for building public parks by giving local authorities the ability to raise government loans to buy land for recreation. At the turn of the twentieth century, a radical new approach to town planning emerged through the vision of Ebenezer Howard and his garden cities that incorporated the benefits of both town and country. The first, Letchworth Garden City, was formed in 1903 and included good provision of green space and public parks. Welwyn Garden City followed in 1920 and the urban planning model provided a template for many of Britain’s post-war new towns. Most were planned with generous allocation of parks and open spaces that have faced mixed fortunes in recent years. However, while most public parks have been created for public benefit through the enlightened speculation of landowners, the generosity of benefactors and the vision of local councils, many have failed to safeguard the necessary resources for their long-term management and maintenance. This is a fundamental issue that has made public parks increasingly vulnerable to changing patterns of public funding and contributed significantly to their decline in the last decades of the twentieth century.

From the late 1960s, public parks embarked on a long spiral of decline. The Countryside Act of 1968 set up the Countryside Commission and led to the creation of a large number of country parks to meet the growing demand for countryside recreation from an increasing number of car owners. The reorganisation of local government in 1974, recommended by the Bains report, placed parks departments within wider leisure services and, by the 1980s, urban parks faced increasing financial pressures from year-on-year budget cuts. Compulsory competitive tendering, introduced in an attempt to bring greater efficiencies to local government, saw many parks managed by external contractors, with low tenders delivering even lower standards of maintenance. This diluted management expertise and ‘the emphasis on economy rather than on quality squeezed budgets for in-house training’. ‘Urban Parks in Crisis’ ran the headline of an article in the Landscape Design Journal in 1984 illustrating the growing professional concern for the declining condition of many public parks. By the start of the 1990s, parks were increasingly being seen as a liability rather than asset, making them vulnerable to part-development or even sold off in their entirety. Dr Stewart Harding, who set up the first Urban Parks Programme at the Heritage Lottery Fund, observed that ‘those all-important signals of “conspicuous care” disappeared – the neatly trimmed lawn edges, the litter and weed-free flowerbeds, the band concerts, the flowing fountains.


By the time the full effects of progressive reductions in capital and revenue spending became clear, parks began to look as if they had been abandoned’. This increasingly visible plight of public parks was highlighted in a series of important reports including ‘Public Prospects: Historic urban parks under threat’ published jointly by the Garden History Society and The Victorian Society; ‘Grounds for Concern’ published by the GMB union; and a policy statement and symposium on ‘The Future of our Urban Parks’ by the Landscape Institute. In 1995, following 18 months of research, Liz Greenhalgh and Ken Worpole published the influential ‘Park Life’ report. This was followed with ‘People, Parks and Cities’ that was commissioned by the Department of the Environment to identify good practice to help halt the decline of urban parks. By the mid-1990s, there was a major shift in the fortunes of public parks that included the launch of the Heritage Lottery Fund’s Urban Parks Programme (UPP) in 1996, as described previously. Further progress was made as the momentum for change gathered pace. The 1999 House of Commons Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee inquiry into Town and Country Parks marked an important milestone, summarising, ‘We are shocked at the weight of evidence, far beyond our expectations, about the extent of the problems parks have faced in the last 30 years.’ The Urban Parks Forum was established the same year and was followed a year later by the Government’s Urban White Paper, ‘Our Towns and Cities: the future’. This picked up many of the themes of the Select Committee acknowledging that ‘we must lead and develop a shared vision for the future of our parks, play areas and open spaces’. One practical action saw the formation of an Urban Green Spaces Taskforce that recommended in its final report the formation of a national agency for urban green spaces. A year later, in 2003, CABE Space was launched as a dedicated unit within the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE). It led a programme of research, best practice and enabling to improve the planning, design and management of parks and public spaces. At the same time, the Urban Parks Forum was officially relaunched as GreenSpace, providing a national network supporting park managers and community groups. From 2010 there was, however, a shift in the fortunes of public parks. Following changes to CABE’s funding in 2011, the organisation was downsized and transferred to the Design Council, marking the end of a dedicated and properly resourced national public space programme. Two years on, GreenSpace was forced to close through a significant reduction in its income and grant funding. Public parks no longer had a fully funded and dedicated organisation supported by government, with the resources and capacity to act either as a national champion or representative of the professional sector. We were now in the ‘age of austerity’.


The impact on local authority funding has been devastating and, in particular, the parks sector. With ongoing cuts in public funding (in particular, loss of Government Revenue Support Grant) and an increasing number of staff and skills being lost across the sector, there are now major challenges facing public parks. There is clear evidence as provided by the report ‘The State of UK Public Parks 2016’ commissioned by the Heritage Lottery Fund, which painted a bleak picture. Over 92% of park managers reported cuts to their revenue budget over the previous three years, with 95% of park managers also expecting their revenue budget to be cut over the next three years. Local authorities such as Liverpool, Newcastle, Bristol, Birmingham and Wolverhampton are now reporting up to 90% cuts to their parks budgets with no end in sight to continued austerity cuts. Yet the importance of public parks remains undoubted. Around 80% of the UK population lives in urban areas which will become denser in the future as almost 300,000 new homes are needed each year up to 2031. Parks are set to become an increasingly important resource in urban areas to mitigate the environmental impact of this development and maintain local amenity and wellbeing, a strategy first embraced during the Victorian municipal park movement in the 1900s.


Yet we are at crisis point… again. So where do we go next? Is the renaissance really over? In a nutshell … yes it is! As far back as 2006, CABE Space highlighted the challenge was to ensure the ‘long-term sustainability of these improvements in the conditions of urban green spaces across the country. In many cases, this will require the identification of alternative sources of revenue and capital funding’. In 2014, Dr Katy Layton-Jones published her final report for English Heritage on ‘Urban Parks, Designed Landscapes and Open Spaces’. It referred to the remission of the period of decline for Britain’s parks as a result of the Heritage Lottery Fund’s Urban Parks Programme and its successor the ‘Parks for People’ scheme. But it warns of an uncertain future in terms not only of funding and maintenance, but also of ownership and, in some cases, existence. Yet there are over 2.6 billion estimated visits made to the UK’s parks each year with over 70% of park managers recording increased visitor numbers to their principal parks. The correlation of reduced budgets and increased visitor numbers simply does not make any sense. Great Britain has been a nation of park builders since the advent of the Industrial Revolution. The Times (13/11/15) reported that ‘it’s mad to let Britain’s glorious heritage of urban parks disappear’ and the very same paper (26/02/19) reported ‘Growing up near green spaces is linked to better health’.


Speaking at the Paxton 150 conference in 2015, parks historian David Lambert echoes this. ‘What Paxton and his fellow Victorians thought was bleedin’ obvious – that the health, social and recreational benefits of parks far outweigh the costs of maintaining them’. Local authorities are now committed to seeking new ways of working and managing parks including new partnerships (Newcastle City Council have been working with the National Trust and have developed a new model to manage their key parks - a City Parks and Allotments Trust – but what about the rest of their parks though?), driving up income, developing commercial activities, relying on volunteers, and testing new models of management. There is still much to consider and this author believes that there are a number of other considerations that should be pursued. These include the need for a national Urban Parks Strategy, to be embraced by central government. The award from Whitehall of a paltry £13 million towards urban parks is not enough to reverse the chronic underfunding announced in February 2019 and would barely restore 4 city parks. There is a need for a single voice to promote public parks and represent the hundreds of parks professionals across the country – step forward the Landscape Institute, as well as a framework to assist and shape the development of the skills of the parks professionals of tomorrow. Yes, the renaissance is over.

But history tells us that another one will be along at some stage when we start it all over again.

Paul Rabbitts Head of Parks for Watford Borough Council and parks historian, lecturer and author


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 


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