Set up during the early stages of the pandemic, Paul Rabbitts, Chair of the Forum and Head of Parks, Heritage and Culture at Watford Borough Council, provides a summary of the Forum; its aims and achievements so far.
In early 2020, a group of parks managers decided to get together and do something about the lack of professional representation for those that manage parks and green spaces. Since the demise of ILAM, GreenSpace and CabeSpace, there has been a significant gap in an organisation that purely represented parks management professionals. With the advent of the 21st century parks manager and our need to diversify to meet current needs and broaden our skillset, it was an easy decision to come together as a group and take our fortunes into our own hands.
Paul Rabbitts, Head of Parks, Heritage and Culture from Watford Borough Council pulled together an initial meeting of like-minded individuals from across the UK, including representatives from Rugby, Manchester, Nottingham, Walsall, Birmingham, Newcastle upon Tyne, Sheffield, London Boroughs, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Adur and Worthing and the West Midlands to look at what could be done. With a survey carried out of the sector with over 600+ responses, assessing the need for an ‘institute’ or ‘body’, the response was a massive yes. Enter the Parks Management Forum, set up, now under the chair of Paul, we have the beginnings of a movement and organisation that truly represents those working in parks.
We have launched the Parks Management Forum during the COVID lockdown. It seemed like a good time. The crisis has turned the spotlight on the public parks we work in. The Government decreed that they must stay open; at a stroke endorsing our belief that they are an essential service. People have flocked to them in record numbers and staff have worked tirelessly through the crisis to keep parks clean and safe and beautiful.
The Forum has not been set up not just to lobby for the need for good-quality public parks. That case has been made incessantly over the last twenty five years. It has been set up to give a voice to parks professionals, who know more about these places than anyone. We work in them daily; we know our trees and our flowers, our water management and our ice-cream sales, but we also know our users; we know how vital parks are across our communities, and especially in poorer communities. These are not pay-per-entry leisure facilities or stately homes; free access to good quality parks and open spaces is as fundamental to physical and mental health as free access to health care.
This Forum represents an unrivalled reservoir of understanding, expertise and dedication. Running parks is an expert job and we are determined to make our voice heard by politicians as they formulate policies and make financial decisions which have huge repercussions for the viability of public open space. For too long parks, as a discretionary service, have been a poor relation of other public services, down the pecking order as just a ‘nice-to-have’. The pandemic has shown that is not where they belong.
Progress over the last 12 months has been significant. We now have 2,400 followers on LinkedIn, a database of over 1,400 parkies, and over 700 followers on Twitter. We have signed up over 200 founder members, a bank account with a significant sum raised to help us move to the next stage. Our website is up and running, but was developed by a ‘volunteer’ from the group. With support from APSE, we now have a significant voice in the world of managing parks across the UK. We have met with Green Flag, Fields in Trust, the Chartered Institute of Horticulture, the National Trust, BALI, The Grounds Management Association, the National Lottery Heritage Fund and many others, and have signed up many parks professionals from across the UK, including The Royal Parks. We have developed a constitution, a terms of reference and are developing our business plan to ensure the long term sustainability of the group.
Our most significant achievements though included a meeting with Lillian Greenwood MP, Chair of the APPG for Parks and Green Spaces, whereby it was agreed questions would be raised in central government concerning the plight of urban parks. Following on from this, we have now established ‘The Parks Collective’ who have met on three occasions.
What is the Parks Collective? This is a group that has been pulled together of organisations who all have an interest in public parks and green spaces. This now includes The Landscape Institute, Historic England, Fields in Trust, the National Trust, Green Flag Award, National Lottery Heritage Fund, Greenspace Scotland, Greenspace Wales, Keep Scotland Beautiful, Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful, Chief Leisure Officers Association, the Chartered Institute of Horticulture, Play England, The Ramblers Association, Grounds Management Association, The Parks Agency, The Gardens Trust, National Federation of Parks and Green spaces, the Royal Parks, Manchester University, University of the West of England and of course APSE. Our role? To work collaboratively and constructively, to ensure better parks for our communities. All parties agree this is important and we are moving this forward at pace and how we launch a national campaign for better parks and green spaces and secure the capital and revenue funding we desperately need. We are much better together than apart.
The next steps for the Parks Management Forum? We have commissioned a website designer to give us that online presence that is so essential, keeping us all up to date. This will go live in June 2021 with a rebranding as we rename ourselves The Parks Management Association, reflecting more clearly what we are about.
For more information on how to sign up visit: www.parksmanagementforum.co.uk
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