The 11 projects that are Rethinking Parks

Britain's Great Parks Innovators

A colleague recently reflected that a great honour of working at Nesta is getting to meet and support Britain’s great social innovators; the people who take a risk in the hope of making our world a little better. Through their ambition and tenacity, they inspire the rest of us to follow in their footsteps.

I could not agree more when I think of the teams we have chosen to work with through our Rethinking Parks programme. We are very pleased to be working with 11 energetic and talented teams who will develop and test new business models for parks over the next 18 months and beyond.

The teams are varied, ranging from parks community groups such as the Thames Chase Trust and Bristol Parks Forum, through to nationally recognised charities, like The National Trust. There are many partnerships too, which is encouraging as it is likely to take a range of sectors and ideas to ensure our parks are financially sustainable in the long term.

The projects are:

1. Bloomsbury Squared, London Borough of Camden, London

London Borough of Camden will explore both voluntary and compulsory levies on businesses surrounding Camden’s urban parks and squares. It will work with friends groups, academic institutions and resident and business associations to give money to maintaining their local parks. The model tested is most similar to the Bryant Park model that has been successful in Manhattan.

2. Endowing Parks for the 21st Century, Sheffield and Manchester

The National Trust, in partnership with Sheffield and Manchester local authorities, will develop an endowment model for public parks across their authorities. The four areas for raising investment that the project will explore are:

  • health and wellbeing (public health and preventative medicine, GP commissioning and prescribing)
  • ecosystems services (flood management, water quality, air quality, temperature control, biodiversity, wildlife corridors)
  • public giving (generally smaller amounts by lots of people)
  • 21st century philanthropy (donations from businesses, wealthy individuals, charitable trusts and foundations).

3. Park Hack, Hackney, London

Groundwork London, London Borough of Hackney and Gensler will look at how they can offer new services (such as pop-up meeting spaces) to local businesses across a range of parks in Hackney. The aim is to increase income, without reducing the experience or availability of the park to the wider public. Research by Gensler indicates many businesses are willing to pay for services within parks, and recognise their proximity to public parks increases their rent potential as well as attractiveness to employees and customers.

4. Coastal Parks and Garden Foundation, Bournemouth

Bournemouth Borough Council will be supported to create a Foundation for parks across its authority. Bournemouth will be testing the extent to which public giving can help financially sustain a park, including exploring the opportunities new smart phone and other digital technologies could enable around real-time. The approach will draw on learning from models already being used in the United States, such as in Seattle.

5. Everton Park – A Community Hub, Liverpool

The Land Trust, Liverpool City Council and community groups will put in place a long term plan for community management of the park. The transfer of the park from the local authority to the Land Trust creates the opportunity to enable the community to have a say in how the space is managed and maintained. This project is part of a wider development plan for Everton that will regenerate the area, providing new housing while securing the long term future of the park.

6. Go to the Park, Burnley

Burley Borough Council, Offshoots and social enterprise Newground will test new approaches to help cut costs and increase income in parks. These approaches may include managing grasslands in parks as meadows, introduction of bee farms, growing borage in wilder areas to produce Starflower Oil (used like Evening Primrose Oil) and managing woodland for wood fuel. A Volunteer in Parks programme (VIP) will also encourage community involvement.

7. My Park Scotland, Edinburgh and Glasgow

My Park Scotland will communicate what opportunities there are for people to engage and give to their local parks on a city-wide basis. The approach builds on existing digital technologies that enable people to explore heritage and cultural aspects of parks in Glasgow using a digital map. This project is being principally delivered by Greenspace Scotland who are working in partnership with Edinburgh and Glasgow city councils.

8. Eastbrookend Rekindled, Barking and Dagenham, London

Eastbrookend Rekindled addresses two distinct problems for the community in one go. A partnership between the Thames Chase Trust and the local authority, the Tenant Referral Team will benefit from a more spacious and enjoyable working environment, while the increased use and footfall as a result of their relocation to the Millennium Centre within Eastbrookend park will generate revenue as well as diversifying the use of this country park. Many public parks across the UK have buildings currently unused and testing the opportunities that colocation of public services offers within a parks setting may be a viable solution to maintain these assets as well as engaging new audiences in using the parks.

9. Darlington Rethinking Parks, Darlington

Groundwork, Darlington Council, Darlington Cares and the Green Spaces Forum will test the potential of corporate giving to sustain parks. They will explore donation of skills as well as money on an ongoing, rather than ad hoc, basis from organisations which want to give something back to their communities.

10. ParkWork, Bristol

The Bristol Parks Forum and Bristol City Council will offer training and skills development for people who need additional support to secure permanent employment. Schemes that currently use horticultural training as routes to employment tend to operate at a smaller scale. ParkWork will train low skilled people in difficult circumstances to create routes to employment, while improving the maintenance and management of the parks service on a city-wide basis.

11. Heeley Park Subscription Society, Sheffield

The Heeley Development Trust will develop a subscription for Heeley Park in Sheffield. The subscription will increase income for the park by offering members additional opportunities over and above the existing free facilities in the park, for example preferential booking to concerts held in the park.

Over the next 19 months the Nesta team and project teams themselves will be sharing how these ideas are developing and, over time, the impact they are making.


Lydia Ragoonanan

Lydia Ragoonanan

Lydia Ragoonanan

Senior Programme Manager

Lydia was a Senior Programme Manager within Nesta's Innovation Lab.  She developed and managed a range of practical innovation programmes.She worked on a range of social action funds, …

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