Introducing a Parks Trust

This section introduces the concept of a city-wide Parks Trust and suggests questions that might help you to consider whether a Parks Trust is right for you.

There are numerous ways to transform how a city's parks and green spaces are run - from enhancing in-house operations to setting up a Foundation or undertaking wholesale service transformation with a local authority spin out or separate organisation.


However, our research suggests that setting up a new, independent charity to care for a town or city's entire green space portfolio could truly secure and grow the benefits of parks for everyone, for generations to come, as the animation below explains.


There are number of key benefits to the creation of a city-wide Parks Trust. 


Institutional focus and drive 

The advantage of a ‘purpose built’ charity is that from top to bottom, it will be absolutely focussed on the parks and green spaces of a city and how they can deliver for its people. Combining a mission with financial responsibility means it will be incentivised to generate funds, but never in a way which erodes its charitable purpose. Being outside of direct local authority control will also free individuals to deliver with a creativity and flair that is often difficult as part of a large organisation like a city council, as well as opening up new funding and investment opportunities. 


Size matters

A city-wide Parks Trust will be able to maximise economies of scale in areas such as procurement and back office functions, but it won’t have to follow the bureaucratic processes that local government has to follow. Being focused on a single place, it will be able to combine this with detailed local knowledge and networking which a national organisation would struggle to develop. Being a charity, it will want to make every penny count, but being a large charity with multiple incomes, it won’t be easily hamstrung by one-off events or difficulties and will contribute positively to the local economy.


People are supportive

We commissioned Britain Thinks to research people’s views of alternative models for parks funding and management. When asked, people supported the idea of a Parks Trust because it represented principles that were close to their heart: a fair, city-wide solution that enabled parks to thrive within public ownership. (For more detail, see Engagement and consultation). Our conversations with organisations that benefit from parks, such as utilities and health providers, revealed support for the concept of a Parks Trust because it enabled them to invest in social and environmental outcomes which they don’t currently contribute to. A city-wide charity focussed on parks will also naturally create more opportunities for public engagement, volunteering and community participation as these are some of the areas that charities excel in and are culturally attuned to.


It's already successful

A Parks Trust model is neither new nor unique to parks. There are several examples where it has proved successful, such as Milton Keynes Parks Trust. The Milton Keynes Parks Trust has successfully increased both the amount of green space it looks after and the size of its endowment over two decades and is today stronger than ever.


This is a chance for bold thinking to not only protect parks but to be innovative and think creatively about what parks are for.


David Foster, CEO of Milton Keynes Parks Trust, said: "The real benefit of a parks trust is not so much about funding; it is about setting parks and the people who run them free – free to be innovative and creative. An independent trust with a sound financial basis and single purpose – a trust that has nothing else to do but promote the parks, get them well managed, and bring the money in to manage them – is much more likely to succeed in making them work."


Below is an animation showing how a Parks Trust might work. It is intended to be a starting point for discussion rather than a directly importable model. 



When we refer to a 'Parks Trust' model, we refer to:

  • an independent charity which manages a city-wide parks and green space portfolio for the benefit of the public
  • a self-financing entity which relies on a number of different income sources, but always acts in the service of the public
Further information on examples of possible legal structures and core governance principles can be found in Legal structures and Governance sections of the toolkit.
A city-wide Parks Trust might not be the perfect solution for all local authorities, and local circumstances mean this is not a one-size fits all approach. Within the toolkit we present a menu of options for local authorities to consider. Local authorities should still carry out their own due diligence to check feasibility.

Rethinking Parks case study

Our interest in the Parks Trust model began with our project ‘Endowing parks for the 21st century’. This was one of eleven successful UK projects selected to take part in Nesta’s Rethinking Parks programme.


Rethinking Parks - a partnership between the Big Lottery Fund, Heritage Lottery Fund and Nesta - was a £1m fund to find and support organisations and partnerships to develop, implement and spread new approaches to sustaining and making the most of UK public parks.


As a Rethinking Parks grantee we received grant funding of up to £100,000 and a package of non-financial support to develop and test an idea through to December 2015. The grant enabled us to work closely with Sheffield City Council to test the feasibility of funding a whole city's parks estate through an endowment.


Through our research, we found that, if you were to create an endowment, structural changes to the way in which parks are managed (e.g. establishment of a new entity or charity) would be necessary, as without this stakeholders would not be willing to contribute. This led us to explore the feasibility of setting up a new, independent charity to care for a whole city’s parks and what structure might be most appropriate.


By working with a local authority we were able to test assumptions in a live context, enabling us to be more confident that our recommendations are robust. 


A final report about the Rethinking Parks programme was launched in February 2016 and can be found on Nesta's page, Learning to Rethink Parks.

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