Public parks lie at the heart of communities around the world, providing green spaces that welcome everyone. They offer a natural resource and release from the pressures of modern urban life. However, like many publicly provided services, the UK’s public parks are under increasing financial pressure, with limited resources available to adapt to changing circumstances.
Big Lottery Fund, Heritage Lottery Fund and Nesta are once again partnering to invite applications to a new Rethinking Parks fund that will support innovative ideas to address the challenges parks face.
Our aim is to help parks innovate to ensure they can sustain and develop as free, open and truly valued community spaces for the future
The first Rethinking Parks fund was launched in 2014. The partnership supported 11 projects over an 18 month period and learned a great deal from working alongside initiatives such as ParkWork in Bristol, and MyPark Scotland in Glasgow and Edinburgh. Building on what we learned from all of the projects, we are now excited to launch a brand new Rethinking Parks programme.
ParkWork, Bristol Parks Forum
We know from our previous work on parks innovation that innovative operating models and partnerships, digital management tools, and community engagement can all play a role in creating a more sustainable future for our parks. That is why we have chosen to focus on two areas; to support parks innovators to replicate and adapt promising models for operating parks, and to test new ways of using digital technology to contribute to the sustainability of parks.
Innovation isn't always about doing something entirely new - we are looking to learn from, adapt and build on the excellent work of others in this award stream. We’re looking for organisations and partnerships who are well placed to replicate and adapt the most promising approaches to help run parks more sustainably, drawing from what they have seen others trying out elsewhere.
In particular, we would be interested to hear from those who are considering setting up and adapting specific models, whether business improvement districts, parks foundations or other approaches that have shown some promise already.
For example we know Parks foundations have potential as shown in other parts of the world. In the US, the National Association of Parks Foundations exists to share knowledge and skills between its member foundations and the Phoenix Parks Foundation has existed since 1979. You can also read about the Bournemouth Parks Foundation which was set up under the first Rethinking Parks programme. Another example can be seen in Business Improvement Districts that have focused on Parks, famously Bryant Park in Manhattan. You may have other ideas for new operating models that could work for your parks service. That’s great, but you’ll need to show us it has been tested and shown potential elsewhere already and tell us why you think it will work in your location, for your community. The idea could be from anywhere in the world.
Bournemouth Central Gardens, 2017, Wiki Commons: Chris Downer
For the prototyping awards, we are particularly interested in hearing from those with an idea to work with communities and stakeholders to test and learn about how technology can meet parks challenges in a range of ways. Prototyping and testing with users is important to us as it will involve engaging the community, managers and stakeholders appropriately in defining a challenge, and in creation and development of sustainable responses - rather than parachuting in a tech solution.
You might think technological change isn’t relevant to parks. But through our previous work we have seen the impact of digital innovation in other fields, and we’ve identified some challenges that we think digital innovation could address. For example, understanding who uses parks better and combining parks data with other open data sets to unearth new insights into the role of parks in health.
We are looking for innovative new ideas to back in this awards stream, but they must be grounded in an understanding of the challenges parks face. You do not have to come with all the answers - this award stream is about prototyping - testing and learning through taking new digital and data approaches to see if they can really make a difference to the future financial sustainability of parks, and we will support you to do that.
The process for selecting ideas to work with will have two stages, the first application stage, and the second a development of ideas stage. Applications for Rethinking Parks Replication awards are open until 27 February and the Prototyping awards are open until 28 March. Whilst we understand you may be refining your application until near the closing date, we would strongly encourage potential applicants to talk to engage with our team and with potential partners and attend the webinars we will be hosting. We suggest you get in touch, read about the projects from the first programme, and follow our programme page for more blogs over the coming months.