Can “The friends of” safeguard the future of public parks?

Alpha Rail sales Director, Phil Ball discusses the future funding of public parks and recreation areas.

I have just been reading an article concerning the uncertainty over the availability of funding for the maintenance and improvement of public parks and recreation areas.

The implications that more parks may disappear due to an inability to maintain them to a safe standard struck a chord with me on so many levels. I believe it is vital these areas of public space are preserved to be enjoyed my many generations to come. And please can I assure you that this is not just out of vested interest simply because this is one of the sectors that will use Alpha Rail metal railings!


As we all know, in the past, most public parks and recreation areas have been owned and therefore funded by local authorities who maintain and upgrade them in line with the affordability and priorities of the government funding they have been allocated.


Sadly, in recent years, with pressure mounting on local authorities to reduce spending due to cuts in their budgets, many parks have become neglected.


Some have been lucky enough to secure funding through alternative sources such as the heritage lottery fund (HLF) or through partnerships with commercial organisations such as large retailers or developers where planning permission for a development has been linked to regeneration of a local area.


However, I fear this will not be enough. The article makes it very clear that the pressure appears to be on everyone to come up with new and sustainable sources of income, which will safeguard the future of these beautiful areas.


Having been involved in the manufacture and supply of metal railings and gates for parks projects I have had first hand experience of dealing with an increasing number of volunteers who have formed “friends of [park name] associations.”


I have been really impressed by their activities and the passion that has united them to save and improve their local open spaces.


From what I have witnessed on these projects, their professionalism is to be applauded. They have become a group of very influential people with common goal of saving their greenbelt. Their opinion is actively sought and has guided many community projects and planning proposals that are geared towards maintaining and improving public parks.


There are many examples of their views being consulted for inclusion in forward thinking and strategic planning to create sustainable initiatives that will generate regular revenues on a not for profit basis that are almost sufficient to maintain the area on an on-going basis. They have rallied together to raise funds for improvements and regeneration.


In no way am I being patronizing in my praise for their efforts – indeed I’m full of hope that these associations might co-ordinate together on a more nationwide basis to secure the future of these valuable spaces.


Which leads me to a vital question. How can we as suppliers to this sector and our respective trade associations help?


Is there a way to unite these volunteers on a nationwide basis under a single umbrella to create a business model other “Friends of groups” can follow and thus help safeguard the future of public parks?