Wednesday, July 10, 2013


by Dave Morris

Was it really only 3 years ago that a few of us Friends Groups activists first met up to help organise a London conference to discuss our common concerns as park users? We discovered that there were over 500 Friends groups around London, many having already formed local Friends Forums in various boroughs to support one another. We realised that if we could link up we could become a force to be reckoned with on behalf of London's green spaces.

Every local space is different and has different needs. My local park is Lordship Rec, the largest public green space in Tottenham. I have been active in the Friends of Lordship Rec since 2001, and am very pleased to say that after a lot of collective effort and partnership-working with the Council we have reversed the previous slide into neglect and are near the completion of a major lottery-funded and community-led £6m regeneration programme.

Local Friends Groups are set up by park users and local residents to promote, protect and improve a local green space - in essence to 'take ownership' of the space on behalf of local communities and park users. Friends Groups are responsible for a wide range of highly positive achievements, including: organising local events of all kinds, planting bulbs and helping increase biodiversity, disseminating information and news, producing publicity, history pamphlets, working closely with parks staff & managers, getting key user groups to work together, developing visions for improving local spaces, accessing resources & funding, etc.

Every green space should have the management and maintenance it deserves to enable the local community to enjoy its many benefits. This includes adequate on-site staffing, buildings and facilities in good condition and in daily use, and well-maintained natural and horticultural areas, playgrounds, paths and park furniture. And most importantly, the local community and in particular any Friends or User groups need to be able to be fully involved in the management of that green space.

Take my borough, Haringey. There are now over 40 local Friends groups involved with the Haringey Friends of Parks Forum, which has been active since 2002. We have discussed every green space issue under the sun, but in the last 2 years we have had to respond to the biggest crisis yet - 50% budget and staffing cuts to an already-underfunded parks department! We have therefore had to learn how to lobby, petition and protest, and to link up with other community groups and trades unions to stand up for the many local public services facing similar cuts.

We don't want London’s green spaces to return to the scandalous neglect and dereliction that afflicted most of the country's urban green spaces after the savage cuts to public services in the 1970s and 80s. Most Friends Groups were set up in the last 15 years precisely for that reason. Their often stupendous efforts have gradually borne fruit, but for most the recovery is nowhere near complete and Government cuts have thrown the gears into reverse. As well as totally inadequate levels of staffing there are also growing problems caused by privatisation and fragmentation of local services. Most spaces don't even have a Friends Group yet so are likely to be in a particularly poor state.

People can help out in a number of ways. For example: support local Friends Groups or help form them where needed, publicise their activities, help with local history projects, lobby for protective planning policies and for planning gain funds to go to green spaces, oppose cuts to parks budgets and maintenance....

We are encouraging the development of active Friends Forums in all London boroughs. Nationally, there are well over 5,000 local Friends Groups and the many local networks are linked together through the new National Federation of Parks & Green Spaces. It feels that our grass-roots (literally!) movement is growing and evolving into something very significant. We are aiming for a Friends Group and community empowerment for every urban green space, a Friends Groups Forum for every area, adequate resources & a statutory duty on all Councils & landowners to protect and manage all their spaces to Green Flag standards.

It is very exciting and empowering for those of us actively involved - but most importantly, despite the current problems and cuts, we have a real opportunity to promote and defend the country’s green spaces.

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