As our Summer of Parks draws to a close this week, our final staff blog comes from our Chief Executive, Helen Griffiths, who looks back on a summer where we have explored our parks and green spaces, learned more about them and the people who love them and championed everything they bring us.
Fields in Trust's Summer of Parks was envisaged as a season-long celebration of the UK's parks and green spaces. It was a campaign that I mainly watched unfold from home during my maternity leave and was delighted to see the three key elements of our work: the launch of The Green Space Index - our new analysis of green space provision; our annual Have a Field Day public participation events to get communities out enjoying their parks; and the UK's Best Park award - a public nomination and vote for the nation's favourite green spaces, being skilfully linked together by the team. Now, as summer draws to a close, and for me personally as I return to work, it is a great moment to reflect back on the themes of our exploration of the nation's parks and green spaces.
We began over the May Bank Holiday by publishing the Green Space Index, our barometer of publicly accessible park and green space provision, which revealed that there are 2.6 million people in Britain whose nearest green space is more than ten-minutes' walk from home. We are taking stock, not only of the quantity of local parks and green spaces but their unequal distribution amongst the communities they serve. Producing the Green Space Index has been a long-held ambition for the organisation as it enables us to delve much deeper into the real picture of parks and green spaces, where they are located, where they are being lost (and on occasion gained) and who they can be used by. Now you can review the Green Space Index and a series of detailed maps which underpin the analysis online, to review how your home town compares to other parts of Great Britain.
As parks and green spaces are one of the most universal of our public services there are many different ways to consider how people enjoy their local parks: we identified fifteen topics and each week began a conversation about how our green spaces impact on our lives.
Along the way we met some remarkable people who care for our parks and green spaces; dedicated professionals like Chris Worman and Trevor Hoyte, both from Rugby, and committed volunteers like Kazia Knight from Wetherby, Norman Carley in Swansea and Janet McArthur from Edinburgh. These representatives of local Friends of groups illustrate just how much people love their local parks. Sarah Royal from the National Federation of Parks and Green Spaces outlined how you can get involved in your local group, or set up one of your own.
We also focussed on park users and the different reasons people visit parks: as young children for play, to enjoy relaxing in nature; whether for informal activity, formal sports or a community celebration people visit parks for many different reasons. Each visit contributes in some small way to our physical health or mental wellbeing. As universal services, however, not all parks are fully accessible to the whole community so we took a look at the barriers that some park visitors face, suggested how they might be removed and celebrated places that are delivering a genuinely universal experience, like the Portstewart Diversity Park in Northern Ireland.
"Visits to the park have been an at least daily occurrence for me over the past year; pushing a sleeping baby in a pram, meeting friends, and getting some much-needed fresh air have all reminded me first-hand of all the reasons why these spaces are so valuable. We hope that the information generated by the Summer of Parks can help support more informed judgements about a strategic approach to protecting parks and green spaces."
Helen Griffiths, Fields in Trust Chief Executive
Providing a positive experience for all visitors is a result of thoughtful planning and design of green space provision. Our examination of the planning process took us back into our own archives. The Six Acre Standard, originally published in the 1930s, has now evolved into our current Guidance for Outdoor Sport and Play. Far from being a historic curiosity this guidance informed Glasgow City Council's strategic plan to protect 27 parks and green spaces across the city and was a vital tool as plans for the new Pentre Felindre Urban Village in Swansea are being developed.
The first Saturday in July is Have a Field Day, our annual celebration where we invite people to come together with their neighbours for a picnic in the park. This year 251 events took place across the UK with a total attendance estimated at close to 50,000. As well as the celebrations of parks, these events provide a much-needed opportunity for communities to get together, meet their neighbours and enjoy the positive benefits of being in the park. Sign up now to find out about next year's celebration.
For Fields in Trust our heritage is important - founded in 1925, we have over 90 years of history to look back on. The anniversary of Peace Day 1919 provided an opportunity for us to mark the end of our World War I commemoration programme Centenary Fields. We were delighted that author Travis Elborough gave us permission to reproduce the introduction to his book A Walk in the Park, telling the story of British parks. This provided an ideal context in which to examine our own past and to republish archive material in a contemporary format each week. In addition, we also created our own interactive online archive which tells the story of our founding and development. This historical analysis demonstrates that, over the best part of the last century, some things have remained consistent: green spaces are good, they do good and they should be protected for good.
We complete our Summer of Parks with a celebration of the UK's Best Park. You nominated a record number of 364 parks and green spaces - each nomination setting out what is special about every individual park. The voting has been unprecedented with 36,832 votes cast and we have narrowed the nominations down to the final four on the shortlist and will announce the UK's Best Park 2019 on Thursday, 12th September. In advance of the celebration, I'd like to thank all the nominators who shared the love for their local park and all the voters who got involved in the campaign. Congratulations to the winner, the shortlisted Home Nation winners and each of the 73 parks and green spaces who achieved "Much Loved" status - being in the top 20% of the UK-wide vote. We were also delighted to see so many of our elected representatives championing their local green spaces - 124 MPs, MSPs and AMs got involved to support the nominees.
So, as we reflect back over Fields in Trust's Summer of Parks we have gathered inspiring stories of dedicated individuals, smart tips and handy hints, insights and advice. Each week we encouraged our readers to do "One Small Thing" to learn more about the UK's parks and green spaces, all the content from the summer remains on our website and the one small thing tasks can be picked up at any time.
Aggregated together all the articles, images, graphs and insights from the summer forms important information alongside the Green Space Index, adding to our knowledge and understanding of the way people use, care for and love our local parks. Visits to the park have been an at least daily occurrence for me over the past year; pushing a sleeping baby in a pram, meeting friends, and getting some much-needed fresh air have all reminded me first-hand of all the reasons why these spaces are so valuable. We hope that the information generated by the Summer of Parks can help support more informed judgements about a strategic approach to protecting parks and green spaces and I'm looking forward to getting stuck back in to help make sure our work can achieve the most significant impact for the communities that use these spaces.
Favourite childhood park: Bucknall Park was my absolute favourite park as a child. Not because of the playground with the terrifying witch's hat or the seesaw that my elder sister over-enthusiastically bounced me off resulting in a split lip, but the exotic peacocks that strutted around. I thought they were the most amazing creatures and stalked them around the park at any given opportunity. I haven't thought of them for years and next time I'm in my home town I'm going to see if they are still there!
Favourite local park: In what feels almost like an act of disloyalty I'm changing my favourite park from previous declarations. Clissold Park has long held my heart but I'm shifting allegiances to the less grand Millfields Park that's closer to home. I've visited Millfields almost daily during my maternity leave and amongst many special moments had the absolute joy of seeing my baby's delight at being pushed on the tiny swings by her big sister and taking my eldest daughter's stabilisers off the bright yellow bicycle Santa gave her and watching her pedal away around the park.
Favourite overseas park: Hyde Park is smack in the middle of the CBD of Sydney and is the oldest public parkland in Australia. Surrounded by the cityscape including the beautiful St Mary's Cathedral it is an oasis of calm filled with native trees and I love retreating to this cool spot whenever we visit family in the height of summer. Every January it hosts the fantastic Sydney Festival bringing together all kinds of art, dance and music and the park take on a whole new life.
Favourite park memory: So many to choose from but my 30th birthday party in Clissold Park was like a mini Have a Field Day with added champagne!
Favourite thing to do at the park: Pre children it would have been to beat my partner at tennis - it never happened but I kept trying - but now it would be a picnic in the children's playground.
Helen Griffiths is Fields in Trust's Chief Executive. She can be contacted by any of the below means.
t: 0207 427 2110
Helen Griffiths is Fields in Trust's Chief Executive and is an experienced and knowledgeable commentator on issues related to parks, playing fields and recreational spaces. Follow Helen on Twitter @hegriffiths.