Following the sad passing of HRH The Duke of Edinburgh, Fields in Trust Chief Executive Helen Griffiths reflects on her meetings with The Duke, his commitment to our nation's parks and green spaces and the lasting impact his work will have.
Since the sad news broke last Friday, I have been invited to speak in several media interviews about His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh who was the President of our organisation for 64 years. Throughout the week I have shared stories of how his involvement laid the groundwork for our continuing efforts to protect parks and green spaces.
I was lucky enough to meet him several times at different events and he was always utterly charming, completely committed to the work and genuinely interested in what we were doing. He was also really keen to meet volunteers who were involved in the work that we delivered. He would regularly invite volunteers who were very involved in their local playing fields, parks and green spaces to Buckingham Palace or to Windsor Castle, to receive a "President's Certificate". He was always so incredibly engaging and brilliant at putting people at their ease in what obviously could be a daunting a situation; always wanting to hear about work that was happening and to understand more about it.
The Presidency of NPFA, as Fields in Trust was then known, was the first national charitable patronage that The Duke took on after he married HM The Queen and he was hugely passionate about the cause. He understood the value of green space and the opportunities that parks and playing fields could provide, particularly for young people. He was an accomplished sportsman in his own right, and he really saw the power of sport and the opportunities it could bring to young people. He understood that fundamentally, the space to be able to play sport was vital, so protecting parks and playing fields for future generations was absolutely crucial to ensure those opportunities continue to be provided.
But sport alone is not the sole function of the green spaces we protect. Reviewing the archives this week we rediscovered a quote from His Royal Highness made in a speech at the Royal Albert Hall in 1956, when he said: "There are many other reasons why we go on about playing fields, and they're not always particularly tangible - you can't always measure them exactly in terms of money. For instance, we want the next generations to grow up stronger and healthier".
It is these health and wellbeing benefits of access to parks and green spaces that drive the work we do at Fields in Trust and underpin the continuing commitment of the organisation to ensure equitable access for all. We are very aware of the pressure that there is on local authority landowners and the parks and green spaces they maintain – but also the immense value that they bring to our health and wellbeing and our community connections - which has been borne out over the past twelve months through the impact of the pandemic. Parks and green spaces have been vital over the last year as places to play, exercise, relax, reflect and the only safe place to meet loved ones and connect with friends and our neighbours; they will continue to be important as part of our recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.
The Royal Family's request for people to make charitable donations rather than leaving flowers is entirely appropriate for a man who had little time for fuss and just wanted to "get on with the job". It is also particularly relevant at a time when restrictions are preventing people from paying their respects in person. We are enormously grateful for the spontaneous donations to Fields in Trust which have arrived this week referencing His Royal Highness's work and we will ensure that they will be used to support a fitting legacy by continuing the work that The Duke began. After 64 years as President, The Duke of Edinburgh handed the Presidency over to his grandson, HRH The Duke of Cambridge - a real indication of how passionately he was committed to the cause and cared for the organisation.
So, this weekend, when I get a chance to get out into the park for a walk, I will pause and take a moment to reflect, and appreciate that the work of His Royal Highness ensured so many of the nation's much loved parks and green spaces remain available for play, for sport and the enjoyment of nature. I hope you will join me in making a similar tribute in memory of a man who truly loved our nation's parks and green spaces.
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.