In the latest in our new series of regular blogs, Fields in Trust Team Assistant Jamie Grubb argues it's time to revalue and celebrate our local green spaces.
Why do you love your local park? In many ways it's a relatively simple question. The potential answers, however, can be as broad and diverse as the entire population.
Our local park means something different to all of us. For some it is a place to relax – go for a walk, sit and unwind after, or during, a hard day at the office. For others it is a place to get active – head for a morning jog, play football on a weekend or even go to the gym. For yet more it is about discovery - watching the leaves turn brown, observing previously unseen species of bird and sitting back listening to their song.
Fields in Trust's UK’s Best Park competition is about celebrating why the public love their local park. It is fitting, then, that the list of over 200 nominations represent parks as diverse as the reasons we love them - from small inner-city pocket parks to large nature reserves to local commons to play areas and everything in between.
Finding the UK's Best Park isn’t about the biggest park, or necessarily the one that has the most facilities. It's about the park that is special to the people who use it.
One of my earliest memories is a family holiday in Orkney and learning to ride my bike in the local park with parents and grandparents watching and cheering me on. I remember many an enjoyable day in my local park in Leeds where I grew up - learning to fish, watching football with my father, throwing a frisbee with friends.
More recently my local park in Wembley was where I went to de-stress during finals at University. Each of these spaces is special to me in its own unique way. I’ve returned to them years later and they evoke memories I had long forgotten. This isn't just the case for me – it is the case for every single person who has used and enjoyed life experiences in their local green space.
That's what UK's Best Park is about. Through it we want to know why you #LoveYourLocalPark. Over 200 local green spaces were nominated, thousands of votes have already been cast but things are still very tight and every single vote will matter. Find out if your favourite local green space has been nominated and vote for it today!
The importance of valuing and championing our local green spaces is more important than ever though. Fields in Trust’s own survey found nearly one in five people say their local green space is currently or has previously been under threat of being lost or built on. On the flip side, data from Natural England shows there were 886 million urban park visits during 2015/16. Fields in Trust's survey found that nearly a quarter of respondents use their local park at least twice a week. Local green spaces are the heart of communities across the UK.
In my time at Fields in Trust I have had the pleasure, through our Have a Field Day programme, of dealing directly with many of the amazing people who give up their own time and work tirelessly to help people get outdoors and enjoy their park. Have a Field Day is all about bringing the community together on their local green space. Much like the reasons people value their local parks, the types of events that take place are equally diverse. Underlying every event though is the simple pleasure of being outside, amongst nature and amongst friends.
Many of the benefits of green spaces are much harder to identify, however. Much of the role of parks is to give people a place to get outdoors and to escape the stresses of life. Parks are the venue for recreational activity not just every month or week but every day. Be it an informal jog or a stroll, to organised football matches or a parkrun. All of which creating a more active nation.
Parks play a key role in contributing to the health and well-being of the nation – the so called 'green lung'. By getting active in our local park we are making ourselves healthier, and in turn reducing the burden on universal services such as the NHS. Edinburgh City Council recently tried to quantify this, estimating that around £12 of social, economic and environmental benefits are delivered for every £1 spent on their green infrastructure. In a nation where the NHS budget is well in excess of £100 billion, a little investment in green spaces could mean significant savings in other areas of the budget.
Yet this is not the situation that appears to be playing out in the UK at the moment. The Heritage Lottery Fund’s State of UK Public Parks 2016 report found that 92% of park managers report cuts to their revenue budget over the past three years. A similar number expect further cuts over the next three years.
It is a fact not widely enough known that parks are a non-statutory service. This means that they are often the first to be cut when savings are needed in local authorities' budgets. A little investment in parks can bring big savings in other areas of the budget, however, as well as contributing to a healthier nation with more cohesive communities. Surely this is something we can all agree is a good thing?
With this in mind it is excellent to see the issue recognised by decision-makers, with the Communities and Local Government Parliamentary Committee currently undertaking an inquiry into the Future of Public Parks. Fields in Trust’s submission to the inquiry calls for a change in the way public green space is thought of – not as the burden on local budgets but as an asset to be deployed.
It is a well known saying that you never know what you’ve got until you’ve lost it. As you go about your daily life over the next week, take a moment to consider just how much you are using your local green spaces - I think it will surprise you. We are in danger, however, of losing our valued and cherished spaces. When they are lost, they are lost forever.
Lost is the place to learn to ride a bike. Lost is the space to fish, to watch football with my dad, to throw that frisbee with my mates. Lost is the space to run to when I need to escape the mountain of revision notes and assignments. Lost are the memories those spaces created, and continue to create.
Our local parks are integral parts of our daily lives. Let's take a moment to revalue them.
Fields in Trust work to secure these vital spaces - forever - so that they will always be places to come together and enjoy life experiences. Currently we protect over 2,600 sites across the UK covering 30,000 acres. There’s a good probability there's a space near you.
If you love your local park then see if it has been nominated for UK's Best Park and support it before the vote closes at 5pm on Wednesday 9th November.
The work of Fields in Trust is as important today as it was when we were founded back in 1925. You can donate to help ensure we can continue to safeguard the green spaces where we all created our fondest memories.
The future of our nation's parks are at a critical juncture. Let's help to ensure future generations will always have a place to create their memories.
Jamie Grubb is Fields in Trust Team Assistant. He can be contacted by any of the below means.
t: 020 7427 2125
Jamie Grubb is Fields in Trust Team Assistant working with the Marketing and Communications department and also on projects such as UK's Best Park and Have a Field Day. He joined the organisation in June 2015 having previously spent time with the team as an intern whilst undertaking a BSc Government at the London School of Economics. He also holds a variety of voluntary roles within the sports sector, including as Marketing Officer for Carlisle United Ladies FC, Chairman of the Arsenal Ladies Supporters Club and on the committees of Boroughbridge AFC and the Carlisle United Supporters’ Club London Branch.