Why your park needs a P&L

First and foremost, parks are community assets, and as such their purpose is to deliver positive impact into the local community. They have the potential to deliver a wide array of outcomes, including better health, well-being, social interaction, physical and mental development, fun, fulfilment, leisure, civic pride, increased desirability of a neighbourhood and so on. They do this by providing many different services/offerings: playgrounds, sports, walking, cafes, community buildings, natural green spaces, events, classes and so on. Sadly, parks are not a legal responsibility of local councils, and local government budgets have been cut to the bone. Often the bear minimum is done to maintain them, and in some cases, parks are being lost.

Community groups get involved in trying to reverse this decline, which is good. I in fact chair such a group. However, a more strategic approach needs to be taken to make real progress, otherwise local tactical actions, however well meaning, only scratch the surface. But don’t get me wrong, making any progress at all, is a good way to start building momentum, but at some point you’ll need a more strategic approach to really keep it going, and to deliver the real potential that exists.

The management of parks can sometimes be very siloed. My borough, for instance, doesn’t have one single person in charge of parks. We have someone in charge of green space contracts, someone else building lease agreements, someone else, communities. The problem is that a park is a thing in itself – an entity that needs to be considered as a whole – and often no one is doing this.

Getting back to this whole P&L thing, you may ask, if a park is a community asset, why on earth look at it from this grubby commercial perspective? To me, it seems like an obvious way to get more money spent on parks, and therefore the best way to ensure that these community assets are fulfilling their potential to deliver positive impact.

Each council should ask whether they actually know the profit or loss of ‘each’ park? How much is the greenspace and other maintenance costing, how much are the buildings being let for, how much income is coming in off events, pitch hire etc. Then they need to assess the current impact that the park is having – creating a way of measuring this. For example, what are the social impacts of each park? This is all normal stuff if you work in the impact investment world or for a social enterprise – it’s the type of data we’re always being asked for.

When you start thinking in that way, you can then consider the impact of spending money on buildings or pitches, or promoting these facilities. Or what would happen if the grounds were well maintained and looked fabulous. You can then make a case for investing in parks.

Could we create a community hub – consolidate services from elsewhere in a locality – maybe the library, a music practice room, fitness space, youth club, scouting facility, flexible high quality hire space, a café (perhaps offering training facilities to young adults with special needs). Would doing this reduce the overheads of these existing services? Would that extra offering bring more people in and create more impact?

A proper park P&L would support decision making, create a path to growing income and cost savings, validate investment, and measure social impact.

One expert in the park enterprise space told me he likes to see parks viewed in clusters, otherwise only the most obvious parks would benefit from this approach. Run a P&L across a group of parks where you might have one large park with big catchment area and lots of income opportunities being part of a park ecosystem that includes smaller parks with less income and cost saving opportunities.

Parks are amazing assets. They offer so much potential that can be unlocked if we use the same sort of ways of measuring things we do in the commercial and social enterprise world.

We need to think differently about parks if they are to have the type of renaissance they deserve.

Do get in touch if you’d like speak with us about park master-planning, creating a park P&L, and measuring impact. We’d love to chat….it’s one of my favourite topics. Simeon@startwithlocal.org.uk

Simeon Linstead

Founder and CEO of Start with Local. Simeon@startwithlocal.org.uk

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