Birmingham has won a place on a new initiative to enhance the future of its parks and green spaces. In the first project of its kind in the UK, Future Parks Accelerator (FPA) is designed to help councils find sustainable ways to manage and fund parks and open spaces across entire towns and cities.
Last year, Birmingham City Council (BCC) submitted its Naturally Birmingham Project plan to the Future Parks Programme and became one of only eight places across the UK selected by the National Trust (NT), The National Lottery Heritage Fund (NLHF) and Ministry for Communities, Housing and Local Government (MCHLG) to take part in its ground-breaking Future Parks programme.
It is receiving a share of more than £6m of funding and £5m worth of advice and support from some of the country’s leading experts in conservation, fundraising, volunteering and green space management.
Why does the UK’s Parks and Green Spaces need an accelerator programme?
Whether our green spaces are parks, allotments, nature reserves, country parks, public open spaces, parts of our homes, cemeteries, wildlife corridors, woodlands, playing fields, community gardens, the bit of grass at the end of the road or two planters greening a grey street, their importance has always been recognised by the individuals that use them. But over recent years the funding available for the development and care of green spaces has been reduced.
Future Parks Accelerator Programme background
Just as we are beginning to show the true value of open spaces to our society and economy, the future of our public parks is under threat due to a reduction in local authority funding.
In response, The National Lottery Heritage Fund and The National Trust, with government support, announced a multi-million pound initiative to secure the future of the UK’s urban parks and green spaces. In the first project of its kind in the UK, eight urban areas are joining forces in a pioneering programme called the Future Parks initiative.
The National Lottery Heritage Fund joined forces with the National Trust to find and back ambitious and sustainable solutions to protect and enhance public parks and green spaces.
FPA is a UK-wide £10m strategic initiative.
It is helping eight local authorities and communities develop and implement innovative funding and management solutions for all their green spaces, against a challenging backdrop of financial uncertainty.
The FPA will support places to grow the contribution parks make to civic life while becoming financially sustainable. It will involve discovering how parks and green spaces could be better used, managed and funded to serve community needs and aspirations now and over the next generation.
With grant funding and support from a team of experts, the places chosen to be FPA pioneers will work together to catalyse and share innovation, learn rapidly together and build their capacity to lead for ambitious change both in their place and to benefit the rest of the UK.
The FPA will promote an holistic approach, ensuring that all parks and green spaces in an area are protected and enhanced to deliver quality and fair access to green spaces for free for everyone.
“Our urban parks and green spaces are essential to the health and well-being of the nation and yet in some areas they are facing a very insecure future. Future Parks isn’t simply patching-up a few problem parks. It is enabling local authorities and communities to take a longer-term, strategic approach to managing, funding and maintaining them, so future generations will be able to enjoy their many benefits hundreds of years from now.” Ros Kerslake, The National Lottery Heritage Fund’s CEO
The Future Parks Accelerator Programme in Birmingham – Naturally Birmingham
Birmingham’s bid for a place in the FPA Programme is called Naturally Birmingham. A Consultant in Public Health in Birmingham City Council is leading the Naturally Birmingham programme, but the project is working with a range of partners with people’s views and values at its heart. We are testing new approaches to caring for the city’s green spaces.
The programme is focused on four specific pilot themes, in six of the City’s green spaces, within five wards:
- Health and Wellbeing
(focussed in Perry Common – Perry Common Recreation Ground, and Stockland Green – Witton Lakes)
- Children (focussed in Bournville and Cotteridge (Cotteridge Park) and Brandwood and Kings Heath (Dawberry Fields Park)
- Employment and Skills (focussed in Ward End – Ward End Park)
The parks were chosen based on socio-economic factors, geographical spread and local context to develop a new approach on how green spaces becomes part of their ways of working.
The programme will be supported by:
- A range of BCC departments including the Parks Service, Landscape Practice Group, Ecology Team, Public Health, Housing Development, the Children’s Trust and Employment and Skills.
- Birmingham Open Spaces Forum (BOSF) and associated Friend Groups.
- The Active Wellbeing Society (TAWS).
- Birmingham and Black Country Wildlife Trust .
- Witton Lodge Community Association.
The benefits green spaces provide is called Natural Capital. For Birmingham it has been estimated there is approximately £11 billion worth of value in green spaces over a 25 year period. £4 billion of this is linked to wellbeing in the population over. However, there is a challenge to help other parts of the Council not directly responsible for parks and green spaces to realise these benefits and reconsider how they currently value these assets for the good of residents.
The FPA programme will run for 2 years starting from May 2019 and the programme aims to test the following key outputs:
- A more positive perception and attitude towards green spaces in the community, within BCC departments and across the senior leadership team
- Promoting skills and professional careers in green spaces and linked sectors, and ensuring they are locally accessible
- A clear approach to how housing can prioritise green spaces as part of future housing developments
- Making green spaces a big part of children’s education and wider support for children in care
- Making green spaces a key offer as part of current social prescribing models through a good understanding of changes to health and wellbeing
- Identifying alternative funding sources for sustaining parks
- The development of a 25-year green spaces strategy
What has happened so far in the Project
Birmingham Open Spaces Forum (BOSF)
BOSF is hosting the Community Liaison Role for the Naturally Birmingham Project and has taken the lead for the external communication setting up a Twitter and Instagram account. BOSF are supporting the project both directly and through their member groups who have been giving insight to help steer the development of the pilots.
Listening and Learning
The voice of the community is paramount to achieving success and all plans for the pilots will be co-developed and tested with local residents to ensure this is achieved and tied back to the evidence so that we can be confident of having a positive and sustainable impact on citizen’s lives. Initial proposals have been drafted through workshops that have drawn on the experience of Friends of Parks Groups and other community members.
All four pilots have now got topic leads who are engaged in the programme and understand what we are trying to achieve.
FPA Programme Participation
The Naturally Birmingham team has taken part in wider learning events with all eight cities including community engagement, finance and plans for the national evaluation of the entire programme.
Evidence and Mapping
The Naturally Birmingham team have started to map current activity including the voluntary work carried out by Friends Groups in the four focus parks. We have also consolidated the evidence base for green space activity aligned to the four themes. We have looked at the health and wellbeing issues faced by communities living in the pilot areas and how a simple health impact toolkit might help us. We have done site surveys to highlight any quality issues within
the pilot sites.
Parks Challenge Week
A parks challenge week took place 13th to 17th January 2020 where the team from National Trust gave an assessment of green spaces in our City. Assisted by our Parks team, National Trust visited over 25 public open spaces and parks (including opportunities to meet local residents) to understand where we can maximise good practice. Feedback is focussed on five themes:
- Having a clear vision and strategy that is connected into key council delivery plans
- Commissioning full review of volunteering and participation to help increase
- Maximising ways to generate income in our parks
- Having a clear brand identity for our parks
- Helping the wider council to understand the value of parks
Planned Activity for March and April 2020
The FPA team has developed proposals for each of the four pilot themes:
- Health and Wellbeing
- Children and Employment
We now want to talk to you about these so we can further develop them with local community including residents, schools, healthcare professional, Councillors and businesses.
BOSF are leading this community conversation to help ensure we hear, capture and act on the communities thoughts throughout the project. The Active Wellbeing Society who were going to lead community workshops are now part of Birmingham’s response to Covid19 so as this work is vital at this difficult time, we are taking the workshops into a digital format and more details about these will be posted soon.
You can contact us by emailing [email protected]