What’s the past year been like for you, as an organisation and your users?
Challenging is the word that we are in danger of over-using, but it best describes the year for ourselves and our users.Read more
Staff were redeployed to support the initial emergency response, which significantly reduced our maintenance activities.
Whilst the public have generally been really good, we have seen some parks suffer from littering and toileting and staff have been verbally abused trying to enforce local restrictions on closed facilities. It’s been difficult to explain why children’s play areas have been open during lockdown three, whilst the green gym next door is closed. So, people just exercise on the play equipment!
Our staff have worked throughout the pandemic and been simply amazing. They’ve adapted to changing circumstances and different ways of working and still managed to keep our parks open and safe.
How have you engaged and communicated with the people you serve, through the coronavirus pandemic?
Regular communication has been undertaken, both via the council’s corporate social media channels and via on-site signage to advise on the restrictions in place at the time.
Floor painting of social distancing messages has also been used as a very visual reminder.
How have you tried to keep people active, despite the challenges faced?
The benefits of parks were already widely known before the pandemic but the roll they have played, and continue to play, have pushed parks to the forefront of the public’s mind. The vital role they have played in supporting the nation’s mental health cannot be under-estimated.Read more
They have helped to enhance quality of life during a challenging period in our history. They have provided emotional wellbeing, reduced depression, anxiety, and fatigue, as well as reducing stress and improving our resilience.
They have reduced rates of hyperactivity and inattention, to keep us physically fit.
Walking for general exercise has been the significant feature of the pandemic and especially walking in green spaces/natural environments. With recent research showing that 40% of those asked will continue with this activity post pandemic – meaning parks will continue to be important venues for physical activity.
Have there been any positives/opportunities emerging from what you’ve experienced over the past year? If so, what are they?
The big positive is the renewed appreciation of local parks and green spaces which, in turn, has seen an increase in use. People have rediscovered parks they haven’t used for some time or have found parks they didn’t know existed.Read more
However, this has also brought some additional management challenges, along with calls for improvements to facilities. I don’t see this renewed interest changing, so we will need identify how we respond to the public as they demand further improvements to our parks.
How have you planned for the reopening after this lockdown and what are the key elements your parks and park users are having to do, in order to reopen and return safely?
Learning from the 2020 unlocking, the biggest challenge we are planning for is the sheer number of people using the sites and the amount of litter this will generate.Read more
We are planning active litter campaigns to encourage responsible behaviours and increasing the number of bins. Alongside this, we are seeking to mobilise more volunteers to support litter picking activities.
We are also trying to manage the expectations of sports clubs who are trying to finish club matches for the current season. All this activity is occurring in the same space that the public are gathering (in the rule of six, and then the rule of 30 for outdoor gatherings – all with the pubs and other entertainment venues still closed). We also need to ensure suitable maintenance is undertaken to get sports pitches ready for start of the new season in August. This remains a difficult balance.
What have you learned from the reopening process you went through after the first lockdown in 2020?
Unlike those of us that have spent months looking at regulations and writing risk assessments every week, the public only know what they know, so we need simple clear messaging to encourage responsible behaviours.Read more
Most parks do not have site-based staff, so we need to be pragmatic in what is realistic and what people will understand. If we over complicate things, it’s just ignored.
How are you reassuring your users it’s safe to return?
The public have never really stopped using parks – in fact totally the opposite. For all organised sports we are requesting full Covid-secure risk assessments to be provided to encourage the organisers to think about their own safe return. Whilst we are working to the government’s roadmap of reopening facilities safely.
Have parks encountered any specific problems that other sports/activities may not have encounter? If so, how have you worked to solve these problems?
Unlike sports and other activities, parks have remained the only public facility open throughout the pandemic. Therefore the sheer number of people using parks has led to a lot of grassland and footpaths being turned into mud baths. This damage could take years and a significant financial investment to rectify.
What does the future look like for parks?
Very uncertain. Even before the pandemic, parks had were suffering from years of cuts and underinvestment. We are therefore not only at a critical moment for our nation’s parks and green spaces. But we are at a critical moment in how we will respond to a public health crisis. Let’s not forget history, as it was in response to a public health crisis that parks where originally created.Read more
We need to stop referring to parks as a non-statutory service. These very words imply it’s not important when, in reality, our parks and green spaces are an essential part of all of communities so should be treated as such. They provide so much, and we all take it for granted. I would go as far as to say they are essential infrastructure and should receive the same priority as our roads and railways.
We owe it to the tens of thousands of people that have sadly died and the many thousands more in the NHS and key services that have pulled us through this to bring a legacy of change and improvement as part of a proper green recovery.
A legacy whereby our parks and green spaces are part of integrated thinking around sustainable inclusive communities, providing equal access to quality parks and green spaces in every neighbourhood, delivering on health and wellbeing, biodiversity, climate change and community cohesion.
Pictures courtesy of Rugby Borough Council.