Our vision for the future of parks

A canopy of trees at One Tree Hill

We’re working in partnership with others to find new ways to fund and manage local parks sustainably.

John Ruskin once said that “the measure of any great civilisation is its cities, and a measure of a city’s greatness is to be found in the quality of its public spaces, its parks and its squares” – and it’s hard to disagree.  After all, public parks have a very special place in the nation’s heart.

They are the green lungs of our towns and cities: locally loved spaces that provide millions of people with opportunities to escape, explore, rest, relax and play.

Aside from the pleasure that parks give us, they also deliver a huge range of benefits: they keep us healthy, in body and mind; slow the flow of water in otherwise hard urban landscapes; help to clean air and regulate temperature; provide crucial homes for wildlife; and are a vital part of our nations’ culture and history.

Putting a value on parks

We recently worked with Vivid Economics to develop a set of Natural Capital Accounts (NCA), using Sheffield as a case study, in an attempt to put a value on a city’s parks.  

The NCA provided some striking results: they show that parks and green spaces are a great asset to the city, worth nearly £1.2bn, not a liability of £16m as they appear in conventional public accounts.

They also suggest that parks are excellent value for money: for every £1 spent on public parks in Sheffield, society receives £34 of services – 60% of which is to physical and mental health.

However, just as the true value of parks to our society and economy is beginning to be understood, the main way we have looked after public parks for over a hundred years, via local authorities, is under grave threat from a dramatic shift in local authority funding (see Heritage Lottery Fund's State of UK Public Parks, 2016).

Finding new ways to manage parks sustainably

In response to this crisis, we're working in partnership with others to explore alternative models for financing and managing parks.  

While we recognise that there is no one-size-fits-all solution, we have found that a city-wide charitable Parks Trust has the potential to fulfil all the criteria that informed our investigations, such as maintaining free access to quality parks, securing dedicated and long-term funding for parks, and growing the public benefits from parks and green spaces.

Now, we’re working with Newcastle City Council as they establish a new, independent charity to care for their parks and green spaces. We will help them set up their Parks Trust and will help get the new charity off to the best start possible.

Our Future Parks toolkit

We are constantly gathering learning from our work and are committed to sharing this through our Future Parks online toolkit.

We hope that the toolkit can act as a catalyst for those looking to make a step-change in the funding and management of parks and green spaces.

" We are delighted to see this toolkit being made available to all and look forward to seeing how it can be used to help protect ours, and others', past investments in the UK’s parks and green spaces."
- Heritage Lottery Fund endorsement of the Future Parks toolkit