Paul Rabbitts MLA FRSA
Author, Parks Historian, Public Speaker
An Institute for Parks Management
A FURTHER UPDATE 26th JANUARY 2020
First of all, a very happy new year to you all. January is almost done and there are Easter eggs in Tesco already. Looking out my window at home, its cold, wet and grey and have managed to escape the horror that is Love Island which my daughter and wife are watching.
To more serious stuff. As promised, I said I would update you all on progress being made with regards to the representation for parks professionals. Myself, Ian Baggott, and Ruth Holmes, representing parks, met with the LI reps on 15th January at new LI HQ. Progress has been excellent and the discussions were very productive. One thing I now appreciate is that this is going to take time to do well. It will not happen overnight.
My summary was:- this is now progressing well and Ruth and Christina from the LI in particular are on the case. The competency framework is work in progress and Ian and I will work with Christina on this and we had lots of debate about how parks management should be reflected in the core competencies and specialist competencies.
Timescale - this will take time and I accept this needs to be done right - all this will go to the boars in Sept – Dec Board with routes into the Institute ready for early 2021. There will be options to join as a Chartered Landscape Professional - cost is £340 a year or as an Affiliate – cost currently £66 but will go up possibly to £100 – no post nominals – access to CPD and online portal.
To keep the ball rolling I suggested the following –
Ian followed this up with the following additional comments:-
LI are looking at the Parks Affiliate Route as a way of getting parks professionals to join the LI – we discussed how this could work with existing regional for a (parks for London and the Midlands Parks Forum for example) – LI is an individual membership, MPF is an organisational one;
MPF are already working on how we collaborate with the LI to deliver our workshops / CPD events for this year
In order to get to a pathway for “:chartered landscape professional” the LI need to
It was definitely the moist positive and productive meeting we have had so far as we actually achieved something!
There are still the outstanding actions from the November meeting for Dan and his team to progress but finally it looks like we are moving in the right direction.
Further to the LI meeting, I have had discussions with the Chartered Institute of Horticulture and CLOA. Both are worthy organisations and represent what many of us do. I have fed back that we felt the LI was the route to progress. However, we need to strengthen links with both the CIOH and CLOA. The latter are keen to look at further parks representations within their organisation and I have discussed this with Stef Horne, who is Head of Parks and Leisure at LB Hounslow and represents parks sector on CLOA. I suggested a parks 'executive' on CLOA made up of a number of individuals from our sector. This was to be fed back to CLOA but would certainly strengthen connections here. With the CIOH, although dominated by the growers sector, I do feel it would be worth considering a closer working relationship here. From a sector and individuals own profile, it may be helpful to look at what they offer. There will always be a cost to this but by being Members / Fellows / Associates of such organisations, this can only strengthen our position as individuals but for the sector too. Do look at their websites.
Use of social media - I know many of us shy away from it and there are those who embrace it. However, as a tool to celebrate our many successes and profile and our work, you cannot beat a good picture of a group enjoying a park activity, a large mature oak tree, or grabbing a latte in a park cafe, or raising a Green Flag... we have so many. Tweet it, Insta it, #it.... especially on twitter and #parksmatter and copy in @MHCLG, your local paper, your elected members and so on. It all makes a difference.
More updates to follow and best wishes to all of you and get those Green Flag applications in by the end of this month.
AN UPDATE 3rd DECEMBER 2019
Following on from the below which outlines the rationale, as promised I said I would survey the sector to ascertain the appetite for either establishing a new Institute for Parks Management or whether we align with an existing organisation. Well the response was overwhelming with over 600 individual responses from across the UK with a significant spread from London, the Midlands, North West, Yorkshire and the North -East, Scotland and South Wales. I was overwhelmed by the response and thank you for the time you took to fill the survey in. I now have a database of well over 750 individuals from a wide range of organisations but primarily the public sector.
The results gave a clear view of what the sector felt. I attach a full copy of the results here
The Next Steps
So what are the next steps? It is all very well doing a survey, but what happens next? There is a need to keep the momentum going.
On Monday in Birmingham, myself, Eddy Curry (Head of Public Realm - Nottingham City); Chris Worman MBE (Head of Parks - Rugby BC); Ian Baggott (Director - Community First Partnership); Sue Ireland (Former Director of Open Spaces - City of London); Helen Tranter (Vice President - Landscape Institute); Simon O'Dell (Technical Lead - Landscape Institute); Dan Cook (CEO Landscape Institute); Jane Findlay (Landscape Institute - incoming President) Andy Morris (Landscape Institute); Ruth Holmes (London Legacy - online) and Rob Pearce (The Parks Alliance - online) all met to discuss what the Landscape Institute could offer. The purpose of the early part of the meeting was to induct a number of us into the Landscape Institute as Fellows, but primarily, it was to meet up and discuss what the LI could do for park managers and landscape professionals. The meeting was productive and there was considerable discussions throughout the day. What is apparent is the LI are keen to bring in parks professionals at a range of levels and a recognition that the LI has to change and be more open and representative of Landscape. There was also a long discussion around a range of competencies and framework that individuals could be brought into the Institute. At present this looks overly complicated and needs a lot of work. The Landscape Institute currently has over 5,000 members and is looking to grow it numbers. Compared to RICS or RIBA, they are very small. Having said that, the new Institute for Place Management has c1500 members so size is not everything and the CIOH has 1850 members. The feeling from the meeting was that the LI could be a home for parks professionals as sustainability of a new institute is a concern. However, this is not a reason to continue looking at the options for a single parks institute or other organisations.
The outcome of the meeting was that Dan Cook, the CEO of the LI was asked to come back in January 2020 with a firm plan and proposal with detail as to how the LI could represent parks people.
Discussions have also been held with APSE and contact made with the National Lottery Heritage Fund and presentations made at Green Flag Judge update days, West Midlands Parks Forum and Parks East. Support is out there for representation of some kind.
I have now also had a meeting on the 2nd and 3rd December with the President and Vice President of the Chartered Institute of Horticulture who many parks professionals joined several years ago. This was incredibly productive and as an organisation that has Horticulture at its core, clearly has synergies with parks. The CIOH used to be made up of 50% parks professionals with CPD, an annual parks conference and was very much a home for us. Numbers deteriorated with the demise of ILAM as well as CCT, and the absorption of parks into Leisure departments and Streetscene Services. Numbers left the sector and the CIOH now has few members from Parks. There is however, a real desire to bring parks back into the fold. I attended their annual conference today (3/12/19) and the content was very much reflective of many of our issues - pollinators, urban forestry, horticulture as a medium for change, biodiversity, climate change. Their structure is simple, entry levels much more defined and a career path defined as well as considerable good value for money. They have established CPD and a 3x a year Journal and are already Chartered. See link here
There was little support for joining CLOA .
Many may be asking if the survey said form our own institute and that was a clear majority, why are we talking to the LI and CIOH? Simple. Sustainability is a real issue and we need to ensure whatever we do, it will last. However, and this is a big however.... I still think the establishment of a separate parks institute is a viable option but would take time and would require funding. With the overwhelming number who responded to the survey and the vast number not reached (Town and Parish Councils), I am convinced a parks institute could generate at least 3,000 members which is sustainable. We would need support in setting up and this is where partnerships are important (APSE, NLHF) to make this happen. If we do form a new institute, we will need to generate alliances with other organisations especially with the LI, APSE, CIOH, CIMSPA and others. What I am therefore doing is drafting a Business Plan to look at how an Institute for Parks Management could be established alongside continuing discussions with the LI and the CIOH. It has to be right for us. The working up of the Business Plan will progress. My humble opinion (and others) was our own institute was the preferred option but we have to be realistic.
I would be very much interested though from colleagues on views re affiliation though - The Landscape Institute or the Chartered Institute of Horticulture. Do let me know at [email protected] or [email protected] or 07915602358.
Representing Park Management Professionals - a proposal
The purpose of this page is to outline the current situation with regards to the lack of professional representation of parks managers and to detail a way forward by developing an opportunity for parks professionals to have an established organisation to represent them.
There are 418 principal (unitary, upper and second tier) councils in the UK – 27county councils, 201 district councils, and 125 unitary councils. There are around 11,000 local councils in the UK, from town councils to parish councils. These councils manage between them 27,000 public parks across the country and employ a significant number of professionals to manage and maintain them within such service areas including streetcare, waste services, leisure services, community services, neighbourhood services and cultural services. It is now a rarity to find an authority that retains its distinct ‘parks service’ often absorbed into a wider departmental structure, yet the public perception is very different, and still perceive that ‘parks departments’ still exist.
However, over the last 20+ years, there has been a significant reduction in the number of professionals dedicated to the management of parks and open spaces with headlines such as ‘last of a dying breed’ and media coverage not only in the trade press but also in mainstream media (The Guardian and the Daily Mail, BBC Radio). Like many public services, austerity has hit hard and soft services such as parks have and continue to be hit hard with park management professionals often becoming marginalised and in many authorities, redundancies have occurred with significant posts lost.
During this period, a number of organisations have represented parks professionals including:-
Since the disappearance of these reputable organisations, no single body represents the body of individuals who continue to manage our urban parks. As part of the recent public inquiry into public parks (before the government became all absorbed with Brexit), one of the key issues raised was the lack of a professional body to represent parks management professionals. To this day, there has been little progress despite the continued need and representation from the industry.
The Current Position
With no professional body representation, a number of other bodies exist that have indirect links and to a degree have ‘carried the flag’ for parks. These are as follows:
The Landscape Institute (LI): represents the interests of landscape architects, landscape managers and landscape scientists, a chartered institute with entry by examination. A number of landscape architects have entered the world of parks management (including myself) and left the LI. The LI is keen to expand its portfolio of professional representation and there is now a ‘parks chapter’ representing parks professionals within the Irish Landscape Institute.
The Association of Public Service Excellence (APSE): representing the public sector generally and covers all areas within, from waste, streets, leisure, culture, parks etc. APSE is currently the only organisation that currently is responsible for local, regional and national networking with seminars and conferences covering parks. They are also exceptional at collecting data with regards to trends. APSE is also a commercial organisation.
Parks Action Group (PAG): a small group representing parks interests working with national government – membership of this group covers key stakeholders such as Green Flag, Groundwork, HLF, National Trust, and others.
Green Flag: managed by Keep Britain Tidy Group and with dedicated officers, the only significant organization that network nationally (and now internationally) with local authorities and parks professionals. There are over 1,800 Green Flag Parks and despite current downward trends, the numbers of GF parks are increasing. However, a number of key local authorities have significantly reduced their number of applications and in a number of instances, ceased altogether. Why is this?
The Parks Alliance: a small organisation who lobby government and promote the importance of parks nationwide, made up of individuals who are passionate and advocate the importance of parks, particularly via social media.
Regional Parks Forums: Across the country, there are a small number of green space or parks forums, and include ParksHerts, the West Midlands Parks Forum, Birmingham Open Spaces Society, Bristol Parks Forum, and the London Parks and Open Spaces Forum. Each of these represent regional interests and are made up of local authority officers and arrange local workshops, networking events, sharing of information and are provide local support networks.
GreenSpace Scotland: As Scotland’s parks and green space charity, they have been influential in shaping a supportive policy context for green space and promoting good practice on green space delivery in Scotland. Now a social enterprise, they are an exemplar organisation in promoting the benefits of green space, developing policy and supporting the sector.
The Gardens Trust: The Gardens Trust is the only UK national charity dedicated to protecting and conserving our heritage of designed landscapes. They campaign on their behalf, undertake research and conservation work, and encourage public appreciation and involvement. Through the national network of County and Country Garden Trusts, they have access to people and local expertise throughout the country. The Gardens Trust is also a membership organisation which relies on members and donors to support their work. Increasingly, they are becoming more involved in parks issues where there are specific interests related to landscape design and heritage.
The National Trust: The NT has taken up the challenge of wider issues around the management of urban green spaces and is working with the NLHF on the parks accelerator programme and assisting a number of local authorities based on the NT model in looking at better ways of managing parks eg Newcastle, Cambridge, Birmingham and London. This is an interesting development especially as they have secured funding to assist with this programme.
The National Lottery Heritage Fund (NLHF): The only organisation that has funded and has basically been the saviour of many of our public parks and has funded a number of parks management posts. As of 2018, they no longer have a dedicated parks fund but will continue to fund parks.
Fields in Trust: Fields in Trust is an independent charity with over 90 years’ experience protecting parks and green spaces. They work with landowners, community groups and policy makers to champion the value of our parks and green spaces to achieve better protection for their future at both local and national level.
Chief Cultural and Leisure Officers Association: CLOA’s mission is to be the lead body that advises on, advocates and champions culture and leisure on behalf of sector professionals, locally, regionally and nationally.
Their vision is that every locality has a thriving, high quality and distinctive cultural and leisure offer.
They have two clear strategic aims which are –
Since the demise of ILAM, GreenSpace and CABE Space, it is clear that no singular organisation represents the parks sector and management functions within. What groups that exist are either entirely regionally focused, supported by volunteers, or have a partial interest in urban parks. Whilst this may be perceived as a strength, it results in a disjointed approach to the representation of the parks sector with the question remaining, who truly represents the interests of the parks sector. The strength of a singular organisation representing the sector is now deemed essential. The creation of a new chapter within an existing and established organisation would benefit parks professionals in the following way:-
The Way Forward and a Proposal
I am Head of Parks, Heritage and Culture at Watford Borough Council and have worked in parks and landscapes for over 30 years in Carlisle, Middlesbrough and now in Watford. There have been significant changes as we all know in the structures and financing of local authorities and one of the easy cuts has been parks and open spaces. Throughout this time, we have lost the Institute of Leisure and Amenity Management (ILAM); GreenSpace; CabeSPACE, and now have The Parks Alliance and Parks Action Group who are campaigners but do not represent those working in the sector.
Times are tough but there is one issue that we can resolve which is within our own control. The management of parks has changed and we are now having to adapt like never before – commercialisation seems to be the key skill needed and horticulture is now, way down the list of skills required.
So, my reason for this proposal is as follows:-
There seems to be a growing desire to establish a new organisation that represents parks managers or those officers involved in the day to day running of parks and green spaces – park managers, park development officers, play officers, allotments, grounds maintenance managers. In my own authority, I have a cemetery manager who is a member of the ICCM and a colleague who is in the Institute of Chartered Foresters. Colleagues in leisure are in CIMSPA, yet there is no professional organisation that represents those managing parks and open spaces. We need to change this. There has been talk of bringing in parks management professionals into the Landscape Institute (LI), where there is some support for this, as well as CLOA but also many who say we should have our own institute. The LI currently represents landscape architects who are primarily private practice orientated and CLOA is very leisure focussed. Either way, this will not be easy but if we start out small and grow slowly so we ensure we are sustainable, then we can get an organisation that becomes our voice, supports the profession, enhances skills, creates networking opportunities and disseminates information and best practice across the sector. It is long overdue.
I am now distributing a survey on Survey Monkey and I would be most grateful if this could be filled in and passed to all colleagues who work in managing parks and open spaces. I really believe we can make this happen and it will make a difference. It is time to look at what is best for us as a sector and decide our own way forward - an affiliation with an existing institute or a new organisation representing parks people. The survey link is here or below. Please do fill it in.