How can we make parks sustainable and boost the wellbeing of the people that we serve as Welsh public services? Bethan Smith reflects on the lessons learnt from last year’s Parks seminar.
In a recent report on The State of UK Public Parks 2016, The Heritage Lottery Fund says park managers expect further cuts, and a huge loss of skilled staff over the next three years.
In Wales, 80% of councils anticipated budget cuts of 10% or more over the next three years, and 70% of parks are expected to be declining in the same period, the highest figures across the whole of the UK. 
When I read the report, I was startled by the figures. Parks are a major part of most communities, they are a place for children to play, a place to walk the dog or a place just to sit and relax. Most of us at some point in our life have used parks, and they can play a big role in improving our wellbeing.
The report reminded me of our event last year on ‘The future of parks and their positive impact on wellbeing’. At this event, we showcased a number of examples of organisations that have tried and tested new ways of working to maximise use of parks and help improve wellbeing.
Go to the Park
One of those examples was ‘Go to the Park’. Based in Towneley Park (Burnley’s largest heritage park covering 200 hectares) and extending across five other heritage parks, ‘Go to the Park’ developed an alternative model of park and green space management that sustainably manages large areas of parks and green spaces using ecological and permaculture techniques. The project has tested the opportunities to save money by adopting ecological and permaculture techniques to manage heritage parks, earn money from wildflower crops, bees and wood fuel, engage people through their ‘Volunteer in Parks’ programme and increase the wildlife value of our green spaces.
My favourite part of this initiative was the development of the world’s first urban bee hive cage which provides protection to honey bees. Funded through Nesta, Heritage Lottery Fund and Big Lottery ‘Rethinking Parks’ programme, the initiative aims to improve habitats for bees and other pollinators such as butterflies in Burnley parks and green spaces.
Digital giving technologies
Bournemouth Borough Council created a foundation for parks across its authority so peoples’ affection for their parks and gardens translates to giving. The team explored how new digital giving technologies can make it easy for people to give to the parks in real time. They also tested whether the opportunity for people to leave a legacy donation is a viable option to sustain their parks and gardens. The approach is based on learning from models already being used in the United States, such as in Seattle.
You can find out more information on this project through Nesta’s blog.
Actif Woods Wales
Actif Woods Wales is a project that helps people improve their health and wellbeing by getting them involved in activities in woodlands. It’s delivered by a small, part-time team at Coed Lleol, the Welsh arm of the Small Woods Association, in partnership with a wide range of voluntary, community-based and public sector organisations and numerous independent activity providers in 5 areas of Wales.
The project started in 2010 and has come a long way since then. Dr Kate Hamilton, who presented at our events, wrote a fantastic blog for us last year which provides more information about the project. Further to that, Kate also wrote a blog which shared their evaluation processes within Actif Woods Wales.
The Rethinking Parks programme has resulted in a number of fantastic initiatives where organisations are using different approaches to utilise parks. The report on Learning to Rethink Parks is well worth a read.
Parks are such an asset to our communities and we need new visions of how parks can be managed differently, how they can empower communities and be sustainable.