Urban parks to get helping hand from The National Trust

by Alice Wright

Alexandra Park, Manchester credit: Alex Pepperhill

The National Trust is exploring ways to help safeguard urban green spaces in the face of severe spending cuts with pilot projects in Sheffield and Manchester.

In partnership with the cities’ local authorities the Trust is looking at potential new funding options.

Nick Foley, from the National Trust, said: “Parks have been hit hard by spending cuts and there is not a statutory duty for hard-up councils to fund these places.

“Sheffield’s Parks and Countryside Service has lost approximately 50 per cent of its budget over five years. This is not a stand-alone case. A Heritage Lottery Fund report, State of UK Public Parks, published in June 2014 found that 86 per cent of the parks managers they interviewed had had their revenue budgets cut since 2010.

“In many instances, the current model of local authority-led funding and managing parks is not working.”

The Trust is exploring how funds could be secured for ring-fenced endowments, a model that is used to help support many Trust properties, for public parks across Manchester and Sheffield. An endowment is an investment fund where the principal amount is kept intact and only the investment income is used. With its partners, the Trust is looking at sources not typically used by parks, including corporate giving; public giving; and also investment in the “eco” services that are provided by parks, such as air quality and flood management. Other possible contributors could include the health sector.

A commitment to exploring new ways to manage local parks and to support the local authorities, communities and charities that maintain them forms part of the Trust’s new 10-year strategy, which was launched last month. They also promised to promote the importance of local heritage and green space, playing a leading role in Heritage Open Days.

Nick Foley stressed that it’s still “very early days” for the National Trust’s plans to help safeguard urban green spaces and said that the charity is “testing our thinking in Sheffield”.

“The National Trust is not campaigning to reverse government spending cuts,” he said. “We are instead working with partners in local government to develop and test practical ways to raise money for a ring-fenced endowment for public parks in Sheffield.

“We wouldn’t fund parks ourselves but could offer advice and expertise on funding options. It’s an interesting pilot and one we hope will be successful. However, it’s purely a pilot at this stage which we will have to test and learn from. It is not a national initiative to save our local parks.”

The Sheffield and Manchester initiatives are part of the Rethinking Parks project supported by Nesta, The Heritage Lottery Fund and The Big Lottery Fund. The initiative is supporting a small number of pioneering projects, with a focus on finding new business models that will help parks to thrive for future generations.

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