By Tom Shakhli at Spacehive.
Parks are the realm of the possible; places to escape, dream, and play in a way unimaginable on the other side of the railings. Many of the parks we enjoy today were borne out of the Victorian era, where the fruits of the industrial revolution gave rise to increased availability and demand for enjoyable leisure time. Today we benefit from this legacy in the form of well-located and generously proportioned spaces – it’s fair to claim that parks built today would almost certainly not be able to rival them in this regard.
However, while there is a timeless quality to parks, what happens inside them will inevitably be shaped by what is happening around them, and a lot has changed over the last 150 years. There are more of us, for a start. You only need to look at overflowing bins following a heatwave as we flock to parks for picnics. As health and wellbeing rises up the agenda, parks are also seen as a site for exercise as well as relaxing. Urban populations in particular are no longer a relatively homogeneous grouping; a typical city park may find itself packed during the week as we now work differing hours, or it could be the site of a multi-cultural festival. And then there’s the change in nature itself. As climate change becomes more localised, parks play a role in maintaining biodiversity, as well as providing space for food growing.
While parks came out of what was undoubtedly a period of civic innovation, it was generally guided from above; landowners-turned-philanthropists, those trained in architecture and landscape design, and even royals. Today however, this has been upended as communities come together to decide, plan, and manage new projects which are transforming how we use our parks. The reason? Technology facilitating the power of the crowd.
Spacehive, the UK’s dedicated platform for civic improvement, was established in 2011 to support new community-led ideas, and give them the opportunity to appeal to people in their community to pledge financial support. What distinguishes Spacehive is its definition of the crowd. Recognising the critical role that local authorities, businesses, and funders can play in shaping our public realm, Spacehive has created an online space for collaboration, where they can pledge alongside local residents, meaning that campaigns can benefit from large injections of funding. Over 40 local authorities now partner with Spacehive to activate community-led projects, and have funding pots that can pledge towards campaigns. Then there are national grantmakers, such as idverde, the leading provider of green space services in the UK, and GLL, which supports projects which get people active and playing together. Through Spacehive’s grantmaker app, project creators are presented with a streamlined grant application process where they can pitch to multiple funds at the same time, all of which can then pledge alongside each other. And with these key stakeholders involved, project creators are given a simpler way to navigate through what may otherwise be a complex journey, facilitating connections with local planning departments and changemakers on the way to what really matters: getting their project funded.
It’s proven to be a winning formula. Over 182 parks and gardens projects have been successfully funded through Spacehive, worth a total value of £3.3m. Some projects are about taking an unused building and giving it a new lease of life, such as the recent Village Hall for Clapton Common – formerly a disused toilet! Others are about accessibility, such as in Doncaster where 100 people collectively purchased play equipment which could be used and enjoyed by people with a disability that requires a wheelchair. Then there are the more ephemeral projects, those which bring people together for a short period of time but create an experience which lives long in the memory. The Big Park Sleepover, which took place at Myatt’s Field Park in South London and gave over 100 children from low-income families an overnight adventure in their local park, is a perfect example of this. And stirred to action by reports of dwindling bee populations, 150 people in Sefton took the initiative and decided to create a new wildflower meadow that will serve as a new habitat for them.
Do you have an idea that could enhance your park? Tell Spacehive about it and see if you can crowdfund it.
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