Place-making is often the focus for funders. Money is focused on creating places and less on the long term maintenance. We invited Mark Walton from Shared Assets and Helen Batt from River Stewardship Company Sheffield to speak at our June conference 2014 on the subject of funding place-keeping (the long term management of green and open spaces). Here's a summary:
Mark’s talk focused on ‘Who Pays? Funding Place-keeping’. He highlighted how today’s context of austerity cuts and localism is happening alongside growing demand from community groups wanting access to land and resources. These groups are often informally developed and have a range of motivations: maybe it is a Friends group responding to a threat or a group with wider ideological focus (such as Transition Town movements). The way in which green space management is funded has changed from being predominantly council-led to now include crowdfunding, community shares, specific contracts with landowners, property/ business levies, land trusts and shared ownership.
Helen described the River Stewardship Company as an example of an environmental, rather than a social, enterprise focused on caring for Sheffield’s waterways. While RSC was started with traditional grant funding, it has developed a relationship with funders including the Environment Agency to co- design specific projects together for a long-term partnership, acknowledging the long-term nature of landscape change. For Helen, grant funding is ‘the wrong kind of money’ because it is short-term and inflexible – it has to be spent in particular way within a particular timeframe which does not suit a place-keeping approach. There’s a need for ‘patient’ investment and an understanding that ‘the beneficiary may not be the customer’ – so shouldn’t the beneficiary also pay?
Questions were asked about how to get the private sector involved. Scale was highlighted as important in this: big business needs to be persuaded about place-keeping at the strategic thinking level, but there then needs to be local- scale agreements with local partners to make this happen. Depending on CSR of a business this can be a non-starter– as it only seems to make a difference when it is in the business’s economic interest to look after their green spaces (e.g. when there is a planning application in process).
Thinking differently about how organisations can work together was a theme emerging from this session: can we tweak the procurement process to allow for longer-term working relationships that can be held to account and evaluated? Can the procurement process assess risk differently to allow for more flexible working? Mark stated that the council has a different role to play because ‘while people are enamoured by public ownership, they are not enamoured by public sector management’. Does this then point to a need to challenge and change existing working practices and the design of funding streams/ procurement processes?