Endowing public parks in the 21st century
The National Trust has been awarded £100,000 through the Rethinking Parks programme to develop an endowment models for Sheffield’s parks. We are supporting them through this award to pursue contributions towards the endowment from health and environmental organisations, philanthropic and corporate sources.
The National Trust is working with Sheffield City Council to test the feasibility of raising money for an endowment (an investment fund where the principal amount is kept intact while the investment income is used for charitable efforts) that will sustain their parks and green spaces in the long-term.
A city-wide endowment would mean parks would have a sustainable funding stream to fund their ongoing revenue costs year on year. There are very few examples of this in the UK and where it is seen the endowment was usually created at the same time as the parks, often through large capital contributions from property development or increased land value. We would like to see if it is possible to retrofit an endowment.
The Endowing Parks for the 21st Century project is exploring a wide range of possible contributors including the health sector; those that benefit from ecosystems services such as water and flood management, sports organisations, philanthropists and corporates contributions.
The desired impact
We want to safeguard parks and all the benefits they provide forever. By engaging with diverse organisations and individuals, we aim to not only secure long-term sustainable funding, but to also create an opportunity to reimagine what parks look like, the outcomes they generate, and how they are managed. To do this we hope to establish an endowment with contributions from a wide range of organisations and individuals.
We hope to grow this to £100 million over 15-20 years. We also hope to design the legal structure and the governance arrangements for the new organisation that will be set up to look after the endowment.
From the National Trust our team includes Harry Bowell, Director of the Midlands region; Ellie Robinson, Assistant Director of External Affairs; Matt Doran, External Affairs Manager; Victoria Bradford-Keegan, Project Manager and Antonia Canal, Project Assistant. We’re also drawing on support from across the National Trust and working with the Kings Fund and Common Purpose.
We are working with David Cooper, Head of Policy and Projects within the Parks and Countryside Service at Sheffield City Council. Our Project Board is chaired by Professor Carys Swanwick, Emeritus Professor in the Department of Landscape, at the University of Sheffield and National Trust trustee.
People care passionately about their parks. In the past decade visits have risen to 2.6 billion a year; 9 in 10 households with young children visit their local park at least once a month; and for many, their local park is the natural space they have the strongest connection with. Yet it’s clear that central government won’t underwrite the nation’s parks and recreational open spaces – which in England amounts to around 66,000 hectares and an annual cost of roughly £1bn.
The solution can’t be for national charities like the National Trust to ride to the rescue, with a wholesale take-over of councils’ parks. Nor can local communities be expected to take on this huge responsibility alone. However, the voluntary sector locally and nationally has a vital role in finding solutions to the crisis.