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Birmingham wins share of multi-million pound parks fund

Published: Monday, 17th June 2019

Birmingham has won a place on a new multi-million pound initiative to enhance the future of its parks and green spaces.

Birmingham City Council fought off tough competition to be one of only eight places across the UK selected by the National Trust and The National Lottery Heritage Fund to take part in its ground-breaking Future Parks programme.

It was chosen from more than 80 other projects submitted by councils and communities across the UK to receive a share of more than £6m of funding and £5m worth of advice and support from some of the country’s leading experts in conservation, fundraising, volunteering and green space management.

In the first project of its kind in the UK, Future Parks is designed to help councils find sustainable ways to manage and fund parks and open spaces across entire towns and cities.

Last year, Birmingham City Council submitted its Naturally Birmingham Project plan to the National Lottery Heritage Fund and National Trust. Although covering 4,486 ha of green space in the city, the new funding will focus on will focus on four neighbourhoods within the boundary of the city: Ward End (Population: 93,069), Brandwood (38,964), Perry Common (Population: 75,379) and Ladywood (Population 96,870).

These neighbourhoods are home to a broad cross-section of heritage found in Birmingham and include urban parks, nature reserves, highway verges, green corridors for cycling and walking, canals and water courses, lakes and reservoirs.

Naturally Birmingham will work as a cross-council strategic project, testing new approaches coupled with people’s views and values held at local level through four community pilots.

Each one is to be led by a strategic city council theme, of housing, skills, children and health. They will help create new policy for the city and different ways to work in future. All pilots will link with the Sport England Local delivery Pilot projects, so will engage The Active Wellbeing Society. The four pilots are:-

  • A Skills-led project at Ward End Park and wider neighbourhood; looking at developing future skills requirement for the sector and how to link to the regional jobs programmes, and the national Parks Advisory Group, reporting to Government;
  • The Health initiative will focus on Perry Common, which is being re-structured through a recent housing scheme. This will involve the local community through Witton Lodge Community Association and a local health centre to trial social prescribing. This will link locally and nationally with Public Health;
  • A Housing initiative looking at future sites across Ladywood will look at different ways of integrating urban green space and parks to better serve local communities. Through this the city will be testing the latest Government tools for future development and working closely with the council’s Planning department;
  • The Children’s Trust are our fourth partner in this project, our fourth community pilot will look to engage with existing projects in south Birmingham around Cotteridge Park, and across Brandwood and Druids Heath. The primary focus is going to be around better engaging children and young people.

Other places which have been successful include: Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole, Bristol, Cambridgeshire, Edinburgh, Islington and Camden, Nottingham and Plymouth.

This latest announcement comes as the UK’s parks face mounting financial pressure. A report from the Institute of Fiscal Studies last month showed that councils were spending less on services because of budget cuts and rising demand for social care, with leisure services such as parks and green spaces falling down the priority list.

This financial squeeze, which in some areas has seen park budgets almost wiped out, comes despite increased numbers of people using open green spaces and more areas being created as part of housing developments, according to the State of UK Parks report from The National Lottery Heritage Fund and the government’s own data.

Cllr John O’Shea, Cabinet Member for Street Scene and Parks at Birmingham City Council, said: “In the early days of Birmingham’s history as a city 130 years ago, the creation of parks and open spaces was a hard-fought battle in the face of rapid transformation, industrialisation and urbanisation - and their importance has remained high ever since.

“As an asset they contribute enormously to the city, from a health, wellbeing and economic perspective.

“We can learn from what parks and open spaces of all shapes and sizes did for us in the past and what they are doing in the present. The funding we have received today will help us unlock the huge potential in the future.”

Alongside the £5m from The National Lottery Heritage Fund, in February the Government announced it was handing the Future Parks project £1.2m from an overall £13m dedicated to green spaces.

Hilary McGrady, the National Trust’s Director General, said: “Today is a landmark moment for the nation’s urban parks. This is not just about new ways to fund and support these much-loved community spaces, but completely re-thinking the role green spaces play in our lives and how we can ensure they thrive for generations to come.

“We need to give parks a reboot and start thinking about them as essential elements of our communities in the same way we think about housing or transport. Future Parks is the beginning of something really exciting. What these eight places achieve will help guide how other councils and communities can really make a difference to securing the future of their parks too.

“Ensuring everyone has the opportunity to enjoy green spaces is nothing new to the National Trust; nearly 125 years ago one of our founders, Octavia Hill, created the National Trust so that green spaces could be ‘kept for the enjoyment, refreshment and rest of those who have no country house’.”

Ros Kerslake, The National Lottery Heritage Fund’s CEO, said: “Our urban parks and green spaces are essential to the health and well-being of the nation and yet in some areas they are facing a very insecure future. Future Parks isn’t simply patching-up a few problem parks. It is enabling local authorities and communities to take a longer-term, strategic approach to managing, funding and maintaining them, so future generations will be able to enjoy their many benefits in hundreds of years from now.

“Developing strategic approaches and championing innovation are key elements of our new five-year funding strategy. Future Parks allows us to maximise our resources and to work with key partners to accelerate progress and share learning.”

The eight selected places will now join Newcastle, a founding city of Future Parks, which has successfully developed a new parks and allotments trust to look after the city’s green spaces. Over the next two years they will work together to develop tools, approaches, skills and finance to create their new way of managing green space as well as sharing their experience with other councils.

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