How can we ensure a brighter future for parks?

How can we ensure a brighter future for parks?

Drew Bennellick
As HLF announces a further £34million to revive 16 historic UK parks and cemeteries, Head of Landscape and Natural Heritage, Drew Bennellick, explores how 21 years of investment has helped to transform green spaces and local communities.

I’ve worked at the Heritage Lottery Fund now for over six years and I have to say I feel incredibly lucky. I’ve had the pleasure of helping communities, with vital support of local authorities, revive and re-energise an amazing collection of historic greenspaces.

But I was reminded this week, during a lecture to the London Parks and Garden Trust, that while I find it easy talk about the difference National Lottery funding has made in terms of restoring the beautiful historic features of parks and cemeteries and creating new facilities for the people who love to visit, it’s far more difficult to accurately measure its impact on local people and communities.

In partnership with the Big Lottery Fund, we have so far invested more than £770million, transforming over 700 parks and cemeteries. Run-down, no-go areas from the 1980s and 90s have now become thriving community places. But it is the difference National Lottery Funding has made to people’s health, well-being and quality of life that I think is our biggest achievement.

I remember being in Myatts Fields Park in Lambeth one afternoon.  A lady waving a child came running over to say they had lived in a flat near the park for years and that, following the HLF project, the park was the best it had ever been.  The park was their garden and she was determined that they and HLF should do all we could to make sure it now stayed that way.  Their lives had been changed, the whole family had made friends and the park with its community café and growing space had become the focus of their lives. This is the real difference National Lottery players have made to millions of people right across the country.

So, this week we are announcing a further investment of £34 million that will restore 16 more important historic parks and cemeteries, including:

  • the Venetian-inspired water gardens at great Yarmouth which were constructed as part of an unemployment relief programme after the First World War
  • Belfast City Cemetery which is the final resting place of some of Belfast’s industrial giants and which includes an underground wall that was originally built to divide Protestants and Catholics; and
  • Winckley Square Gardens in Preston, often considered one of Northern England’s finest Georgian squares

These wonderful places will once again become the pride of their local areas.    

We will continue to fund park and cemetery projects, but we do recognise these are very uncertain times for parks.  Local authority budgets have been deeply cut in recent years - a sad trend that is likely to continue.

This is where our new initiative with the innovation charity Nesta comes in to play. Launched last year, Rethinking Parks is encouraging parks, local authorities and communities to think more creatively about ways of financing and maintaining parks. The result is a series of 11 pilot projects aimed at exploring different ways to generate income, whilst respecting the heritage of the site. It is still early days for the projects, but our aim is to see how they develop, to record their experiences and to then share their findings.

What has been particularly interesting is that the project itself has brought a whole new group of people to the world of parks. As well as the usual park managers and local authorities, we are engaging the private sector, community groups and an array of social enterprises. I’m sure this is one big step forward to ensuring a much brighter future for our public parks.

Find out more about the parks and cemeteries receiving new funding

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