As we approach the Easter weekend local authority’s parks services will be in sharp focus and will be bracing themselves for what will be a major test of public behaviour as we reach the peak of the curve of COVID-19.
APSE carried out a survey of council parks managers on 8 April to assess what is happening on the ground, with over 90 responses received from across the UK.
To date Government advice has been to keep parks open to allow for exercise, so long as people comply with social distancing guidelines. The survey shows that almost all parks and urban spaces remain open and almost all are keeping at least some of their country parks accessible at present.
In relation to social distancing 79% are saying that nearly all visitors are observing social distancing. Some are experiencing some problems with certain groups, with 63% saying groups of youths have been occasionally problematic, although smaller percentages saying issues have also arisen with exercise groups, cyclists and families.
Parks managers have tried to encourage safe behaviour with 90% putting up reminder notices, 71% liaising with Police and Community Support Officers and 18% have even locked entrances to some parks. 70% have also closed car parks at green spaces and parks.
Almost all have stopped playground provision, closed toilets and cafes, with 73% roping off or placing fencing around play areas and outdoor gyms. Areas where people are liable to congregate like benches are also closed or taped off.
90% have also stopped or vastly reduced maintenance and the provision of sports pitches, golf courses and bowling greens, with many staff being deployed to help elsewhere on the local government public health frontline.
It’s a mixed picture in terms of visitor numbers with 43% experiencing increased numbers and 36% saying the numbers across parks have decreased.
With all of the measures in place already it can only be hoped that the public follow the advice given by Government and public health professionals to adhere to social distancing and demonstrate sensible behaviour. When the pleasures in life are so limited at present it would be not only frustrating, but further damaging to all of our health and mental wellbeing to see even further restrictions placed on our ability to visit some greenspace for our permitted one hour a day of exercise.