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How the National Trust is supporting urban heritage and parks

Two visitors sitting on a bench and drinking coffee outside Gibson Mill at Hardcastle Crags, West Yorkshire
Visitors drinking coffee outside Gibson Mill at Hardcastle Crags, West Yorkshire | © National Trust Images/Annapurna Mellor

Here at the National Trust, we don't only care for the places we manage. With a large number of urban buildings and parks in grave danger, we have launched initiatives designed to help steady the decline.

The Urban Places Programme

In 2018, the National Trust published a research paper focusing on places of interest within the UK's towns and cities. Created in partnership with BOP Consulting and Gareth Maeer, Urban Built Heritage assessed the overall state of these places, and reviewed existing policies and programmes in order to pinpoint strengths and weaknesses.

The paper focused specifically on urban areas because around 80% of the UK population currently live in towns or cities, and that number is expected to grow to over 90% by 2030.

Buildings at risk

According to the research, in the urban areas of England alone, there are around 3,000 Grade II places that are at risk and with the potential to offer greater benefit to the public. And, although there's no direct evidence that the number of at-risk buildings will grow, the trend is for the level of risk to increase.

With that in mind, and as part of a 10-year strategy to help look after special places that sit outside of our management, the National Trust has set up the Urban Places Programme. We've been working with a wide range of partners to gain a better understanding of the challenges faced in urban areas, and to offer practical help on the ground. We hope that this will help others secure their local heritage in the face of increasing threats.

Exploring the temporary urban park at Castlefield Viaduct, Manchester
Exploring the temporary urban park at Castlefield Viaduct, Manchester | © National Trust Images/Annapurna Mellor

The Future Parks Accelerator

The National Trust is working in partnership with others to find new ways to fund and manage local parks sustainably.

Ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to enjoy green spaces is nothing new to us; 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 the nation.

They're 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.

They keep us healthy – both in body and mind – slow the flow of water in otherwise hard urban landscapes, help to clean air and regulate temperature, and provide crucial homes for wildlife. Plus, of course, they're a vital part of our culture and history.

Reduction in funding

Just as we're beginning to re-affirm the true value of open spaces to our society and economy, so the health of our public parks is under threat due to a dramatic shift in local authority funding.

In response, the National Trust and the National Lottery Heritage Fund – with support from the government – have announced a multi-million-pound initiative to secure the future of the UK’s urban parks and green spaces. In the first project of its kind in the UK, eight urban areas are joining forces in a pioneering programme called the Future Parks Accelerator.

We need to give parks a reboot and start thinking about them as essential elements of our communities, in the same way that we think about housing or transport.

A quote by Hilary McGradyNational Trust Director-General

The eight places, covering a total population of five million people, were chosen in a UK-wide pitch, and selected for their ambitious and creative plans to put green spaces right at the heart of local communities. They are:

  • Birmingham
  • Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole
  • Bristol
  • Cambridgeshire (county-wide, covering seven council areas)
  • Edinburgh
  • Islington and Camden
  • Nottingham
  • Plymouth

The green space across these places totals almost 20,000 hectares – an area equivalent to around 35,000 football pitches – and includes everything from parks, woodlands and cemeteries to allotments, playing fields and nature reserves.

Through the initiative, the eight chosen places will receive financial investment from our partners, along with guidance from leading experts in conservation, fundraising, volunteering and green space management. This experience will subsequently be shared with other councils, to ensure that green spaces are continually managed.

Thick frost on the ground with the windpump standing against a bright blue sky at sunrise at Horsey Windpump, Norfolk

For everyone, for ever

We protect and care for places so people and nature can thrive. Find out who we are and what we stand for.

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