In these times of austerity and local authority cuts, the concept of generating a one-off sum for investment which will protect a city’s parks forever is both an attractive and a challenging one.
Joining the National Trust’s project team about 18 months into the Endowing Parks project has enabled me to see how far we have come and what we still need to do. We have been working with Sheffield City Council and other partners to create a viable model for an independent charitable trust that would look after parks in the city funded by both a return on an endowment and social enterprise. A model that is very similar to the National Trust’s.
It feels like we have learnt an awful lot throughout the project but a few things stand out to me in particular:
A lot depends on the state of the data at the start of the process – a clear understanding of the finances, asset base and workforce relating to parks is vital for confidence in the financial assumptions you are making in the model.
Having a strong senior officer champion for the project is essential, the local authority needs to drive the process, navigating political processes and providing access to relevant staff and information.
An understanding of the local context, particularly which sectors might have a reason to invest in parks, will help you to work out the most likely sources for an endowment.
We are becoming more confident that the solution we are testing is a good one, but at the moment our model is theoretical and based largely on the example of Sheffield. We need to further refine some areas. For example, what will seal investor contributions, and how far our model is translatable to other cities. Our next steps are to share what we have learnt with other local authorities that may be interested in the model, as well as finishing phase 1 of our work with Sheffield so that if they decide to implement the model they have all the tools they need.
Rethinking Parks was a £1 million Big Lottery Fund, Heritage Lottery Fund and Nesta programme designed to find, support and test new business models to sustain the UK's public parks.