So first some facts I picked up....
Britain in Bloom sees over 28,000 volunteers each do an average of 65.9 hours in parks countrywide. Each volunteer hour is worth £13.10.
That's over 915,000 volunteering days.
There are 571 groups working in parks across the UK,-a number which has steadily increased since numbers began in 2006, to now have 30% more active groups across the country.
The economic value of friends of parks group is seen as £45.7million
The average group looks after 18 acres.
last year they planted over 3 million bulbs.
Between them they have raised over £1.5 million for parks across the UK.
|Lister Park, Bradford and it's Mughal Water Gardens|
So this must be all good?
Well yes of course it is. Parks groups are a vital part of park teams today, and are, without a doubt, the driving force behind changes in parks nationwide. Just here in Bristol we have seen parks address anti-social behaviour through planting, gain village green status, become community assets handed over to communities to run. We even have an Edible Park that I am working on with Incredible Edible Bristol, leased to us for 5 years. There are equivalent places all across the UK, that are seeing people power move the parks movement forwards.
But what seemed slightly sad to me, and looking around the city here I see this in reality, is that the successful parks groups are in a very definite demographic and whilst this is not in itself an issue, I wonder how we make these groups more diverse and bring in our rich minority cultures to the conversation. After all our parks are for all, rich, poor, young and old and historically were there to ensure that there was green space in our cities for all to enjoy. With 70% of our population likely to live in urban and suburban areas by 2050, and in the knowledge that we need nature in our lives to be well both mentally and physically, we need to ensure that parks don't become seen as the home of the middle classes and that they remain truly accessible to all.
My question is how do we achieve this in a way that isn't patronising and top down? How do we engage communities with parks and gardens when they feel disengaged. And more importantly how do we ensure that those spaces are what is needed by all the communities in a city? Where it's great to see anti-social behaviour being dealt with by introducing large swathes of planting to discourage certain elements, how do we engage with the problems to ensure they have a place to go. By doing that are we just squeezing that anti-social behaviour into a park where there is no park group to deal with those issues?
For certain working in parks is not easy. Our Incredible Edible Bristol Edible Park is right in the middle of the city and for sure has been a space that has seen huge issues in it. When we took it over the park was hidden behind a huge swathe of shrubs that had never been pruned and it was impossible to see into the space. We spent the first day we were there collecting needles, tins that had been used to take crack, bottles, cans and rubbish whilst chopping back the undergrowth to make the space feel safer and more inclusive. It would have been easy to chase the addicts and the drinkers from the space, but rather than doing that and alienating people, we have worked around and with some really challenging people, all of whom we are filling the park with food for. We have taken specialist advice, learnt where to signpost people to, have emergency numbers and, I hope, we are completely non judgemental. There have been moments of real fear, but also of quite extraordinary joy as we have gained trust whilst starting to create a space which I hope will be one that is completely unique.
|The edible park before....|
|The Edible Park with work begun..|
|Bedding scheme in Bristol|
I digress. What is so great about Britain in Bloom is the way it has increased civic pride and to some extent moved responsibilty for our parks and gardens into the hands of people. These shared spaces, although sadly missing in many places their parkies and park teams, are being pushed forwards in exciting ways by people, proving that in reality people can make real change when given the opportunity, which Bloom has definitely begun to make possible. What I personally would like to see is the RHS ensuring that the parks in our towns and cities more marginalised areas can also have local people working on them with the support of the RHS where needed and bringing in other local organisations to help where appropriate. Wouldn't it be great to see local schools, youth groups and minority groups working alongside what are left of parks teams, to not only make beautiful spaces but also to learn horticultural skills which could lead to employment or an exciting new hobby. If we are serious about reinvigorating horticulture and keeping our public parks and gardens exciting and inclusive spaces, isn't this the way to move forwards?