We had a great response to our call for Expressions of Interest for Rethinking Parks. Having now informed the 28 applicants who we have invited through to full application stage, I thought it would be useful to give some reflections on the applications we received.
But first, some statistics. We received 209 Expressions of Interest from across the whole of the UK, and there was a strong representation from all the eligible sectors for the fund: local authorities, social enterprises, charities, community organisations and the like. The breadth of organisations putting forward their ideas paints a positive picture for me. In my view, the size of the challenge we face for our public parks is unlikely to be met by just one sector alone, so it’s encouraging to see such a wider range of organisations putting their ideas forward.
Characteristics of Unsuccessful and Successful Applications:
As with any competitive, open call process, invariably some applications are unsuccessful or ineligible:
- Some organisations did not appear to have an idea developed enough to be piloted or implemented. For example, some applications wished to explore options ahead of committing to the idea they wished to test. This is a practical programme and we are primarily interested in testing new models rather than feasibility studies.
- Many applications requested capital investments to upgrade or convert buildings, playgrounds and equipment. Whilst these approaches may have potential to generate revenue (some did not articulate the link), the panel felt that these solutions were known to us and did not represent innovative models that other parks across the UK could learn from. We’re looking for radical and innovative ideas that will shed light on new approaches rather than replicating good practice.
- Some applications had a limited connection to existing parks or new business models that would enable them to be financially sustainable. In these instances it appeared that applicants saw parks as a space to test an idea unrelated to the purposes of the fund. There were also a small number of applications who had ideas related to open spaces that are not currently parks.
If you put in an EoI and have not progressed to final stage, this does not automatically imply your idea won’t be successful for your community, or that your idea did not contain elements of innovation. The 28 finalists represent the best of their breed and had a level of reach or ambition and a delivery time frame that more clearly met ours. This gave the finalists an edge over similar ideas.
The Shortlisted Applicants
These shortlisted applicants represent a diverse group with varying levels of experience. We are also thrilled that we have shortlisted EoIs from Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales as well as England. The ideas cover a range of themes that include using parks as an asset to assist with other social or environmental issues, such as increasing skills or employment, flood mitigation, and improving health and well being. There are also ideas that explore and build on new ways to engage communities and business in parks; others hook into new revenue streams.
Whilst none of the shortlisted ideas are final products, all made a clear link between their idea and the purpose of our fund. Other common characteristics of Expressions of Interest invited to develop a full application stage are:
- Evidence of commitment to partnership working
- An awareness of the strengths of the team, and in particular what additional support they would need to bring their idea to life or scale
- Demonstrated knowledge of other approaches in the UK and internationally that could be learnt from and / or adapted
- A sense of how and why their idea might be feasible to scale
As I’ve noted the programme partners have selected 28 Expressions of Interest to be invited to develop a full application. Part of this process will include attending a second workshop that will enable these ideas to be tested and build on further.
We will also be asking the 28 finalists to summarise their idea and its intended impact and we will make this publically available - probably in May after receiving all of the full applications.
If you submitted an Expression of Interest for Rethinking Parks, I hope that you continue with us on our journey – regardless of whether you have been selected to progress to the next stage. Our programme is designed so that we will continue to share learning and insights as we progress; knowledge that I hope will help the whole parks sector.