Your local park needs you – now more than ever!
A new community-led cooperative – through a plan developed by local people and to be operated by and for local people – aims to provide maintenance for Agnes Riley Gardens, Hillside Gardens Park and Palace Road Nature Garden beginning 1 April 2016.
In June 2013 Lambeth Council announced a new plan to develop a new way of parks management involving the community and local residents more directly in decision-making for parks and to address the financial challenges posed by the government’s austerity programme. The new programme provided the opportunity for resident-led cooperatives to take over the management of local parks. This initiative is called the Cooperative Parks Programme. As the Programme was set out, there were three levels of involvement local groups could pursue – the most involved choice being to establish an independent cooperative led by residents and other stakeholders, to take on management completely.
Since the Cooperative Parks Programme was announced, the Friends of Hillside Gardens Park and Palace Road Nature Garden (FoHGP) have been assessing how to proceed within the Cooperative Parks Programme. We started by talking to leaders of other parks about their experience with the Programme both in Streatham Common and Brockwell Park. Also we and engaged with other local groups interested in seeing the park continue to thrive.
As we progressed and considered alternatives, it became clear that the option of an independent cooperative led by residents and other stakeholders to handle park management completely, with the council in a monitoring role, would provide the most benefit for the park. We believe this route will provide the best opportunity to safeguard the park for the benefit of all users and future generations. FoHGP voted to proceed in that direction and develop a business plan for a community-led management cooperative – and this cooperative would provide services in the park on behalf of the community. At the beginning the remit will be grounds maintenance, minor repairs and litter collection, all provided by Parkkeepers which we would hire ourselves.
This is the same model as SCCoop set up a year ago to provide services in The Rookery in Streatham Common and, beginning in April next year, for the whole of Streatham Common. But there was an important difference for us – we needed to develop a plan that works for small parks, which have far less budget available, and that have more than one Friends group already involved.
Because budgets were going to be constrained going forward, it was suggested that clusters of small parks sharing resources could be the way to get the most benefit for the money. To that end, FoHGP undertook conversations with a number or other local small parks. The Friends of Agnes Riley Gardens had similar questions about how to go forward under the Cooperative Parks Programme and expressed interest in the concept FoHGP was developing. So in June 2015 they voted to engage further in those discussions and since then some of their members have been meeting with us to work out the proposed plan. Agnes Riley Gardens is very similar to Hillside Gardens Park and located not far away at Poynders Road (the south circular) and Clarence Avenue.
When the Programme was announced in 2013, council budget cuts between 2010 -2016 were reported to be 45%. Since last year it was been expected that cuts for this coming financial year alone – beginning 1 April 2016 – would be 50%. However hard choices resulting from the 2020 Consultation completed in April 2015 and announced in October mean that budgets for some parks beginning April 2016 have been cut by significantly more – some by over 60% – and further cuts are expected in 2017.
So while obtaining sufficient funding (in the form of a maintenance contract from Lambeth Council) will be a challenge, the Friends groups have been given the opportunity to jointly take on responsibility for our parks’ future and have come a long way in the development of a plan in order to do this.
Friends groups play a valuable role in the upkeep and planning of local parks through the volunteer efforts of many members. The FoHGP formed in 2000 in response to community interest in looking after and improving the park and nature garden for the benefit of everyone – and that mission has not changed. People still remember the unhealthy state of the park at that time and don’t want to see it return to that state. A Masterplan for the park which describes the aspirations of local people was commissioned in 2007.
Agnes Riley Gardens has been supported by a voluntary Friends group since the 1990s. The group was revived in 2003 when Clapham Park Project began doing community projects in the area and they also commissioned a Masterplan for the park at that time.
Much has been achieved in the last 15 years and these groups now have the opportunity to play an even more vital role to benefit the parks and their futures. Both Masterplan documents are available on the respective Friends group web sites (see below). Going forward we want to revisit those aspirations, update the plans and work to progress the capital projects people still want to see realized in the parks.
This is an important time for the future of parks – an important amenity and vital community asset for health and well-being. We hope you will support our plan and we welcome your involvement in our Friends groups.
We are at the stage now where we have a draft plan, which this document summarizes. A longer version of the current draft is available on the Friends web sites (see below) and we would like to receive feedback on what we have in mind.
A final version of this plan needs to be submitted in January 2016 for approval by Lambeth Council in order to be ready to start 1 April 2016.
We aim to establish a consortium cooperative management organisation, under model rules from Co-operative UK, in order to form a new group that would have the purpose of serving the member parks. At the start this consortium would manage specific tasks such as grounds maintenance, minor reactive maintenance and litter collection.
Under this model the Friends organisations will be members of the consortium. With more than one existing Friends group involved in these parks and all the organisational and interpersonal issues involved with bringing together existing groups of individuals into one cohesive group this model has particular appeal. It leaves the existing groups in place to do the projects and activities they have been doing, or want to do to support their park, while representation on the consortium board links them to decisions and management of the overall maintenance. It also sets the stage for cooperation and collaborative working that will benefit each Friends group and park.
The liability and ownership of the parks will remain with the Lambeth Council while the consortium would be responsible for maintenance of the parks, employment of park staff, and delivery of services under the terms of a management contract between Lambeth Council and the consortium.
This proposal will represent better value for money for the council by removing layers of management associated with the current commercial contract. The consortium will also have the ability to find new sources of funding and income. The consortium will be based in the community and be accountable directly to local residents and stakeholders.
Partially due to the realities of bringing together a number of varied Friends or public representative groups together, we plan to start out with three sites represented by two Friends groups. We have no aspiration to grow a large management organisation yet this model would allow other Friends or other parks groups to join later on and we are more than willing to consider other parks, geographically nearby, that could be included in a step by step manner.
In summary, this plan is an opportunity for small parks to collaborate yet maintain their own identity. It creates a sense of ownership for much valued local spaces and provides a structure where local people are actively involved in solving local problems. This ultimately will create a more efficient way of working and responding to needs.
Service Provision and Management
If the plan is agreed and approved, the following basic services would become the responsibility of our new management organization:
- Includes opening and closing the park, grass cutting and litter collection
- Damage or breakdown of fixtures and fittings associated with vandalism, extreme weather events or age (with overall limits)
Management and Administration
- Includes contracts, employment, accounts and external reporting, meetings and ongoing communication with the board, members etc.
As we have been working to develop our plan, we have identified some overarching principles that apply to our work. We believe that:
- Friends groups have demonstrated their commitment over many years through generous donation of their time and talents and remain the only organizations outside the council that focus solely on their parks
- Friends groups must continue to play a significant role in the future management of their park
- Friends groups cannot be expected to play a greater role than exists today – either as administrators or in respect of day-to-day operations – on a voluntary basis
Friends groups remain essentially focussed on their own park and have important questions about the working of cluster management going forward due to the different needs of each park.
The main concerns are about independence, trust and the equitable allocation of budget share.
The Friends of Hillside Gardens Park and Palace Road Nature Garden is a registered charity. Their web site is www.hillsidegardenspark.co.uk where there is a link to sign up for the mailing list. They can also be found on Facebook at both “Hillside Gardens Park” and “Palace Road Nature Garden” – and on Twitter @HillsideGdns.
The Friends Agnes Riley Gardens group can be found online at their web site www.agnesrileygardens.org.uk – on Facebook at “Friends of Agnes Riley Gardens” and Twitter @agnesrileygdns. You can email firstname.lastname@example.org to join their mailing list.