At the summer Place-keeping conference, we were lucky enough to have Graham Duxbury, CEO Groundwork UK as a keynote speaker. Graham described Groundwork’s new initiative ‘X marks the spot’ that focuses on joint caring for everyday places, places that matter to people. He described how, after years of support for parks and green spaces from national governmental organisations, national government is now absent from the green space debate. He argued that there is still valuable work going on, for example by the strong professional green space lobby, but it is limited.
Graham listed a number of trends shaping the current context for green space. Despite being more valued and visited than ever, parks and green spaces are teetering on the brink; there is less money, a loss of skills and a lack of strategic approach. There is a groundswell of local activity and a platform from which to grow, but it is small, and the good examples of innovative management are isolated. Central government (and the opposition) are still focussed on community rights: ‘if you are not satisfied with public services then challenge it and do it yourself’. Local governments are increasingly becoming provisioning agencies and often see green space as a liability rather than an asset that is complex and requires more strategic thinking than some service areas. This is one reason why there are no great examples of how to deliver it differently! The private sector is increasingly involved in green space assets, such as AMEY managing the highways in Sheffield for the next 25 years. This has significant social and environmental impacts for all users. How these impacts are measured and managed creatively needs to be debated. The third sector is stretched and although they are still delivering social outputs such as capacity building and training these are now more likely by-products of projects rather than forming core funded work.
In looking forward, Graham first took a step back, looking to the history of Groundwork, its core values and approach - making a direct appeal to the public and businesses for a cross-sector partnership approach to making places better. The current austerity measures have happened before so we are coming from a position of experience and knowledge. Graham described three sets of action needed to make a difference: 1) innovation in management through shared responsibilities; 2) driving political thinking – its about ideas not complaining as this will get us nowhere, and 3) a broader approach to public engagement. The focus needs to be on shared endeavour; a collective voice with a powerful message about cherished places that affect us all on a daily basis.