The current discussions about who authorised the 5k ticketed festival in Sefton Park brings into stark relief the question, “Who should run Liverpool’s Parks and for whom should they be run?”
My answer to this is very simple. I believe that whilst the Parks should always remain owned by the Council in perpetuity, with safeguards as to their future, the Parks should be managed or led by the people who use them and the community that they are in.
We have really seen the value of our parks in the pandemic. You’ve almost had to queue to get into Sefton and Calderstones Park on some days. Its been absolutely marvellous to see families walking and cycling together and finding it increasingly possible to do as restrictions get lifted.
Parks are so very important for our health both mental and physical. Before the pandemic struck, I was working with the Reader Organisation and the local community on proposals to increase the use of Calderstones Park using money from the NHS available though social prescribing and other methods.
People who use the parks are fit in part because they use the parks. They are active, tend to have healthier life styles and take the exercise that is so vital for our bodies.
They also tend to have that most important of health indicators, more important than any tonic, people to talk to and interact with. This is so important for people’s mental health. Loneliness and the lack of social interaction is a literal killer which has an effect on the body which is the equivalent of 15-20 cigarettes a day.
So much good work is done by our Parks Friends Groups. I know best the groups which work in Calderstones Park where three bodies, The Friends of the Park; Calderstones CIC and the Reader Organisation work with each other to provide a range of activities. The CIC got a £20,000 grant and using volunteers with some specialist paid support have transformed the old, derelict depot into a wildlife haven. The Friends raise money to provide new tress and to repair other amenities such as broken fountains which give people so much pleasure. The Reader uses the Park creatively as part of its work reaching out to a variety of other groups.
It’s not just in the South where this community interaction works effectively. I look to Walton Hall Park where the community also fought off one of Joe Anderson’s redevelopment schemes. The work that they do is incredible. The park is kept spic and span through their efforts and all sorts of things happen there because they take the initiative. Regrettably, only too often in the past they have had to fight the Council on issues such as parking instead being able to be the Council’s partner.
So, let’s go back to the Sefton Park issue. About 5 years when the sell off of part of Calderstones Park to Redrow was mooted we did a survey of park users. They made it clear that they thought that there were all sorts of things that the Park could do. Classical and folk music festivals on a small scale were some of them. They then thought that the Park could host more craft and produce fairs, be used to help people understand how to grow and then cook food; they wanted more work to be done with the Reader to bring into the Park disadvantaged groups.
The important point being that if they managed the Park they could do three things:
- Establish events that the community would welcome and not regret. That gives important community led buy in so unlike the high-handed approach of the Council in Sefton Park; and
- They can bring in money from a range of funders that the Council couldn’t apply for.
- They can then motivate volunteers to come in and do things in a way that a statutory body such as a Council just cannot do.
There is still a need for Council involvement and particularly for the local councillors for the area in which the Park is situated. The Council can bring to the table some of the big players in the City such as the NHS, universities and colleges who can then get involved in a range of small projects on a park by park basis.
The other side of our review looked at who didn’t use the Park and we found more important lessons. If you are overweight or lonely you may find the idea of walking or jogging quite daunting. This problem disappeared quickly for many if they had someone to go out with. That’s why we want to establish walking groups and jogging groups and post-operative recovery groups to initially get things going and then allow natural and sustainable relationships to develop.
Our parks do need more income because they are slowly but surely deteriorating. Paths are getting dangerous; basic facilities are falling apart and the parks generally need some investment which is highly unlikely to come from the Council in our currently straitened circumstances.
Local involvement can bring in ideas, volunteers and cash to restore our parks to their full glory and put them at the heart of the communities to which they should truly belong.