Our vision for the future of parks

A canopy of trees at One Tree Hill

We’re working in partnership with others to find ways to keep local parks open and accessible for all. Our new Future Parks toolkit is one way in which we’re playing our part to help achieve a sustainable future for public parks.

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've worked with partners including Social Finance and Shared Assets to design and test alternative models for financing and managing parks.  

While we recognise that a one-size-fits-all solution will not be the right approach for all those caring for parks and green spaces, we have found that a city-wide 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.

We are now keen to share the wealth of insight and advice that we have gathered over the past two years of research and testing through the 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 our Future Parks toolkit