Leeds project helps re-think parks

A research project to explore the idea of charitable giving to public parks was launched this week (29 October 2018) in Leeds. The project considers the role local people and businesses can play in improving and sustaining public parks for future generations.

The lake in Middleton Park

The University of Leeds and partners from local charity, community and public sectors have developed an online survey to find out what individuals and businesses think about charitable giving to improve their parks and green spaces.

The project is part of a national scheme called Rethinking Parks that aims to develop promising and innovative new operating models for parks across the country.  The scheme is funded by Big Lottery Fund, Heritage Lottery Fund and Nesta.

The research follows growing concerns over the future of public parks across the UK, particularly at a time when local councils face ongoing budget reductions from central government.

In 2016, 322,000 people signed a petition calling for legal protection for parks and the following year the government launched a new Parks Action Group to help green spaces meet the needs of communities now and into the future.

The Leeds project is based around Leeds Parks Fund, a charitable initiative hosted by Leeds Community Foundation that provides an opportunity for people to make charitable donations to fund community led initiatives that will improve access and engagement as well as facilities in parks.

Money raised through the Fund will go towards improving parks and other public green spaces in Leeds, providing grants to communities for restoration of historic features such as bandstands, planting new floral displays, providing wildlife habitats and improving playgrounds, paths, sports facilities and much more.

Lynda Kitching, Chair of Leeds Parks and Green Spaces Forum said;

“The Forum is delighted to be involved with this national project to investigate new ways to generate funds for public green space. If Leeds Parks Fund is successful, community groups will be able to apply for a grant to improve their local park or green space. Evidence shows that the natural environment has many benefits, including for peoples’ mental and physical health, so any opportunity to make them more attractive to visitors is to be applauded”

Councillor Mohammed Rafique, Executive Member for Environment and Active Lifestyles said;

“Leeds parks are used by 91% of the city’s residents, and are essential for making Leeds a great city for visitors and residents.  I think it’s a great idea to offer people the opportunity to give something back through charitable giving, and make them even better!  If charitable giving is not an option, people can still help support the scheme by filling out the online survey”

Pip Goff, Partnerships Director of Leeds Community Foundation, said:

“We are excited to be at the forefront of innovative new thinking on ways to sustain parks. Parks are vitally important for communities, providing opportunities for people to come together, relax, play and exercise for free.  If successful, the Leeds Parks Fund model will be used as a template for similar initiatives around the UK, hopefully leading to greener, healthier communities right across the country.”

Dr Anna Barker of the University of Leeds, said:

“Various public-spirited efforts played a role in acquiring and improving parks during the Victorian era, including public donations, philanthropic activity and local authority investment.  Given the ongoing cuts to local council budgets, it is important to investigate the future potential of charitable schemes for parks.  Lots of people volunteer in public green spaces, but for those that don’t have the time, the option of donating to an independent charity for parks instead may be of interest.

“We need as many local people and business managers as possible to respond to our surveys at https://bit.ly/2PZJdvC (residents survey) and https://bit.ly/2PNrk3c (business survey) so that we can understand the variety of perspectives on Leeds’ parks and potential funding opportunities for them.”