20 years of National Lottery investment in our parks

Chris Falconer, Parks for People Programme Manager
HLF Parks Programmes Manager Chris Falconer
As we announce £33million of new funding for public parks across the UK, HLF’s Parks Programme Manager Chris Falconer reflects on the impact of 20 years of National Lottery players’ investment in these vital spaces.

The National Lottery has been investing in public parks for two decades. Our announcement today, in partnership with the Big Lottery Fund, brings our total investment in these precious green spaces to over £860m.

It’s unquestionably a substantial sum of money that has had an incredible and transformational impact.

After two decades of neglect, by the early 1990s many of our local parks were unwelcoming problem areas facing huge challenges.  However, money raised by National Lottery players combined with the passion and drive of local communities led to a renaissance in the quality of the nation’s parks.

Community benefits

Looking back, we’ve invested in so many inspiring and genuinely life changing projects. What really stands out to me is how involving local people in projects doesn’t just save our historic landscapes but gives them new life and relevance.

Over eight million new visitors and 13,000 active volunteers have been recorded through projects we’ve funded, with hundreds of formal training placements offered too.

My own local park, Lloyd Park in Walthamstow, north-east London, has been transformed thanks to money from the National Lottery. From run down and sorry looking, it is now a place full of interest and activity, a place to get involved, meet new people and learn different skills. My colleague Liz visited last year and wrote about some great work they were doing around positive mental health.

Public parks are one of our last great democratic spaces, where people from all walks of life come to interact, relax and enjoy a wide range of benefits and services. The Victorian philanthropists who created the UK’s first public parks did so with the vision of promoting community cohesion and improving health and wellbeing in society, and this remains a key function of parks today.

A place for nature, architecture and design

For our urban populations, parks are often the only places people can connect with nature, exercise, or relax outdoors in peace and quiet. As part of a wider network of green space they also provide important natural corridors for species to thrive.

Our Victorian parks and cemeteries in particular leave a legacy of high quality architecture and design, from bandstands and pavilions, to natural landscape features and monuments. So conserving and enhancing their heritage and physical fabric is important, and naturally forms a significant element of the projects we support.

Public pride

Our 20 years in 12 places research found that parks are some of the most recognised projects HLF has supported - they generate local pride and direct personal benefit to users. In Shrewsbury, for example, residents considered Quarry Park to be the heritage project that had had the greatest impact in their town.

Our funding has a track record of responding to need, particularly in communities with the most difficult social and economic challenges to tackle. More than 50% of funding goes to areas in the top 20% on the indices of multiple deprivation.

It’s for all these reasons and more that we are proud to have been a part of helping support these projects and the people involved to fulfil their vision and potential. But there are undoubtedly challenges ahead.

Securing the future

I know when I was younger, visiting the park to kick a ball around with friends, walk the dog or just escape the noise and bustle of the city, I didn’t give much thought to how it was paid for and maintained; it was just always there to for us to enjoy.

But as a discretionary service in tough economic times, we need to look ahead and consider how parks can continue to thrive for years to come. That’s why in our State of UK Public Parks 2016 report we set out five calls to action that we think are crucial to addressing the issues parks face: continuing local authority leadership; promoting active partnerships; supporting communities to play a more active role; developing new models of management and funding; and coordinating, compiling and sharing data.

Working together with partners, we are committed to helping the sector tackle these issues; to protect the investment we have made over two decades; celebrate the fantastic projects we have supported in that time; and above all ensure parks are on a sure footing for future generations to enjoy.