Following a successful Have a Field Day which saw over 250 events across the UK celebrating our parks and green spaces, with UK's Best Park voting now open and as our Summer of Parks continues, we're delighted to welcome a blog from Parks and Green Spaces Minister, Rishi Sunak MP, who reflects on current developments within the sector.
Parks do people a world of good. There is growing evidence that natural spaces benefit our health and wellbeing, educate our children and create opportunities for small businesses to thrive - through cultural events, festivals and markets. From playing on the seesaw, to wild swimming or walking the dog, green spaces are where people go to feel good.
My department, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, recognises the value of parks, especially in bringing communities together. We want to help create strong, integrated communities where people - whatever their background - live their lives and socialise together around shared rights and responsibilities. Parks play a key role in achieving this.
In my Richmond constituency in North Yorkshire, I'm lucky to have access to two of Britain's most beautiful national parks - the Yorkshire Dales and the North York Moors, where we enjoy persuading our two young daughters to join us on long walks with varying degrees of success. Once they are up in hills amongst the sheep, heather and dry stone walls they're generally pretty happy! When working in London, my wife and I often escape to either our hidden gem of a neighbourhood garden square or Kensington Gardens to get away from it all.
As the Minister for Parks and Green Spaces, it's my job to facilitate what goes on 'in the field' (so to speak). Another part of my job is to grapple with challenges in developing, maintaining and sustaining the future of parks. That's why I know that the work of Fields in Trust is so important, because it provides an evidence-based, expert view on how this can be achieved.
Spending on our parks and indeed all services are decisions for local leaders, and rightly so. Where local decision-makers have prioritised parks, there has been some wonderfully innovative work making great impact locally. I also recognise that councils continue to face tough spending decisions, a challenge shared by central government.
"Another part of my job is to grapple with challenges in developing, maintaining and sustaining the future of parks. That's why I know that the work of Fields in Trust is so important, because it provides an evidence-based, expert view on how this can be achieved."
Rishi Sunak MP, Parks and Green Spaces Minister
I am pleased then, to reflect on the £15 million for parks and green spaces dedicated by our Secretary of State over the year. This funding will help those local leaders and communities better maintain, protect and expand their natural spaces. In addition, £3.75 million for the Pocket Parks Plus programme has begun to help communities to transform neglected areas with potential. And, a further £1.2 million - for the National Trust and The National Lottery Heritage Fund's Future Parks Accelerator initiative - means local authorities can test transformative approaches to managing and funding parks and green spaces.
And I know that funding is only part of the picture. Without the hard work of volunteers, 'Friends' groups, regional networks and national organisations like Fields in Trust we couldn't boast some of the world's best green spaces.
Fields in Trust have been celebrating some brilliant moments over the Summer of Parks, with Have a Field Day events a great success, the shortlist for the UK's Best Park now announced and voting for the winner is officially open. I encourage everyone to get involved in picking the best of the best of the UK's green spaces to celebrate.
Beyond the summer, Fields in Trust are always thinking about the future. The recent Green Space Index, measuring public access and use of parks across the country, is an invaluable contribution to the sector's evidence base and will have a lasting legacy. The charity's vision for the nation's parks and green spaces is commendable and I continue to value the contribution to government's work arising from it, through the Parks Action Group.
The government is committed to creating a sustainable future for parks and green spaces. Getting there is about continuing to listen, talk and work together.
Favourite childhood park: Southampton Common with its ice cream van, paddling pool, and great playground - it was a second home for my brother, sister and me
Favourite local park: My kids absolutely love the zip wire at the Northallerton playground near our home. I can't pick a favourite between the Dales and Moors national parks!
Favourite overseas park: I lived in California for a long time, so probably Pallisades Park in Santa Monica which runs along the coastal bluffs with stunning views of the beach and the Pacific Ocean. Or the amazing Yosemite National Park where we were fortunate to visit a few times
Favourite park memory: My dad teaching me to ride my yellow and red BMX bike around the children's bike track in the Southampton Common
Favourite thing to do at the park: Sit in the sun with my wife, watching our kids play
Rishi Sunak was appointed Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government on 9 January 2018. Rishi went to Winchester College and studied Politics, Philosophy and Economics at Oxford University. He was also a Fulbright Scholar at Stanford University (USA) where he studied for his MBA. Rishi was elected Conservative MP for Richmond (Yorks) in May 2015 and served as a Parliamentary Private Secretary at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy from June 2017 until his ministerial appointment. Rishi spent his professional career before politics in business and finance, working internationally. He co-founded an investment firm working with companies in multiple geographies. He then used that experience to help small and entrepreneurial British companies grow.