We know that streets and highways are a major part of public realm works but another area that is sometimes overlooked is the maintenance of outdoor parks. Many of the UK’s most loved parks are steeped in history dating back to the Victorian era when many outdoor public spaces were created using civic funds, as a means of providing a green oasis, away from the smog-heavy cities of the Industrial Revolution. There are an estimated 27,000 public parks in the UK today, used by over 37 million people each year, proving their importance to the population.
According to a report by Public Health England, easy access to public parks for the population will result in better self-rated health, lower obesity levels as well as improved mental health and wellbeing for those who have long-term illness. However, it was recently revealed that many of the UK’s popular parks are likely to fall into decline within the next few years, due to lack of funds.
So how has it come to this? What exactly are the issues that UK parks are currently facing and what can be done to stop the closures so we can continue to benefit from free outdoor space?
Earlier this year, Heritage Lottery Fund released a report entitled ‘State of UK Parks’. It stated that, as a result of budget cutbacks, many parks in the UK were in danger of falling into a state of neglect. But the same report found that 57% of the UK population will visit their local park at least once a month, so why is funding being reduced? It’s clear that budget cuts to parks will have a drastic effect on a large portion of the population and really impact day-to-day enjoyment levels for visitors.
This decrease in funding is starting to take effect. The report revealed that three quarters of local authorities in the UK have reduced the number of staff working in parks, which has resulted in a loss of skills including landscape design and horticulture management. Cuts like this create a vicious cycle – the decline in conditions for parks will deter locals from spending time at their local park so the government will reduce funding even more and parks will fall into a state of further disrepair. Sadly, research shows that many of the UK’s park managers are not hopeful that the condition of their park will improve.
Preserving local parks
In order to counter the current trend, it’s imperative that action is taken quickly before it’s irreversible. The creation of an up-to-date plan that recognises the problems parks are facing and viable solutions considering funding constraints is really needed to tackle the issues. Some parks are starting to launch new initiatives that are already having a positive impact. For example, in Hoxton Square, an office tree house has been constructed for local businesses to rent space in, as a new way of generating revenue. Elsewhere, parks in Birmingham are using health and fitness initiatives to gain funding from sporting organisations. Its Active Parks programme provides weekly outdoor fitness classes to locals for free. Original initiatives like these break the mould and set an example for others to follow.
The landscape architecture industry also has an important role to play in solving this issue. Lending knowledge and skills to staff who are managing park areas is vital as well as taking on new projects that improve both the landscape and facilities. Kinley’s expertise means we can support improvements to parks in many ways, including building strong footpaths using leading ExcelEdge landscape edging or adding sturdy COR-TEN planters to green areas. Our comprehensive range of terrace products including composite decking create attractive outdoor areas in parks to help draw new visitors.
We’re proud to have contributed to several outdoor projects this year that will help the cause, including The Magic Garden at Hampton Court Palace, a new cycle path at Hyde Park and King’s Cross pocket park, Handyside Gardens. It’s so important that we take a role in ensuring the country continues to get access to good quality outdoor space in local areas, especially as rising house prices mean that not everyone has access to their own garden at home.
To help save a piece of UK history it’s vital that everyone plays their own part in protecting local outside spaces. Get involved with local schemes – joining an outdoor gym, attending a festival event or supporting a local community group could help raise much needed funds to keep your outdoor space at the top of the agenda. Even the smallest thing could go a long way to make sure we preserve green spaces and have the opportunity to continue to enjoy them in our lifetime and for generations to come.