National Lottery Action for Parks
By Drew Bennellick, Head of Land and Nature, Heritage Lottery Fund UK
Thanks to the players of the UK’s National Lottery, the Heritage Lottery (HLF) and Big Lottery Funds have invested over £800 million in regenerating over 800 of England’s historic parks, gardens, promenades and cemeteries. The funding has helped to restore avenues and paths, reinstate vistas, dredge lakes, repair monuments and reconstruct features like bandstands. Equally importantly the funding has provided new facilities such as toilets, cafes and play spaces, and helped to broaden audiences visiting the UK’s unique heritage of public parks. Visits to public parks have never been so high, and the massive investment by the National Lottery, plus millions raised as match funding by local authorities, has been a major contributing factor.
As a non-statutory service, evidence shows that public parks are suffering more than other council services. It is now imperative that HLF takes a lead in finding new ways to protect the substantial past investment in parks. HLF employs a parks expert who constantly monitors the parks we have funded, and whilst the vast majority of National Lottery funded parks still look excellent today, maintained with pride by their owners, we know that the wider networks of urban green spaces are in serious decline.
To understand the issues, HLF held a Parks Summit in 2012, which then led to our two State of UK Public Parks reports, in 2014 and 2016. Whilst those reports signalled an emerging threat, we have now begun to see the scale of cuts aimed at public parks. Our latest approach is to be more strategic and to focus on how we can best use National Lottery funding, and our influence. This approach aims to advocate the value of parks, to demonstrate the importance of sustained local authority funding, and to support local authorities to develop creative and appropriate new funding and management models.
Rethinking Parks was launched in late 2013 and has injected £3.5 million into supporting park managers and not for profit groups to explore, test and scale-up new ways to fund and manage parks. Delivered by innovation charity Nesta, with funding from HLF and Big Lottery Fund, 24 projects have been supported. Projects supported include the creation of new charitable park foundations, new links with local businesses, the use of digital technology to better use data and incentivise giving, and developing community co-management models for parks. Rethinking Parks is about supporting innovation so it happens in a controlled and managed way, so that learning is rapid and shared, and ensures only the best ideas for parks and local communities are progressed.
Making the case for parks is critical. In London, HLF has worked with the Mayor and National Trust to produce London’s first natural capital account for its green spaces. The project has helped to develop a standard methodology for measuring the real value of parks and green spaces – which in London is around £27 in value to Londoner’s for each £1 spent by local authorities and their partners. The next challenge is to convert such statistics to real cash for the future maintenance of parks.
Fighting for continued local authority support and new income sources is also the new challenge faced by groups like the Parks Action Group. Established in November 2017, the group of experts, including HLF, is tasked with advising the Government on how we can ensure vibrant healthy parks in future. Focusing on skills, values, accurate data and community engagement, the group certainly has its work cut out for the next year.
So for HLF, our challenge over the next few years is to continue to champion parks and green spaces, to continue supporting brilliant restoration projects and to share learning from what has worked well in the past. Additionally we will be working with new partners over the next couple of years as part of our new National Lottery Funding Framework, to be launched in January 2019, to help protect the historic parks and green spaces that our increasingly urban population needs to survive in future.