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The Park Keeper says ‘Yes!’

Catherine Max

Parks are often seen as public open spaces; however, the Parks for Health project has found that permission to use parks and do activities in parks is a continuous subject amongst local park users. In her most recent blog for Shared Assets, Catherine Max shares how a permissive culture in parks could be attained.

One of the most powerful ideas to emerge from Parks for Health is the transformative potential of ‘Yes’. If permission not prohibition becomes the default position, what would this mean for local residents? How could saying ‘yes’ help achieve the vision of Camden and Islington’s parks as welcoming, happy and healthy spaces for everyone?

As with all change programmes, this is about culture as much as structure, process or activity. So what would a permissive Parks for Health culture look and feel like? Parks for Health priorities include increasing and diversifying the use of parks by different groups and improving the ‘parks experience’ overall. So, ‘yes’ will likely mean encouraging and enabling activities which are unfamiliar in parks, accepting that this might put additional pressures on limited space, and having the skills and confidence to address potential push-back from current users or tensions between different equally legitimate aims such as providing both tranquil and lively spaces.

Playing, reading and chatting in Waterlow Park, Camden’s ‘garden for the gardenless’. June 2021.

The programme team, parks staff and voluntary and community sector partners are all keen to mitigate the risks associated with this new approach. They may need training and support in delivering more diverse services and activities to meet different needs or expectations as well as managing conflict if it arises.  More than that, though, they want to be part of a culture which is positive and the aim is to start modelling this as soon as possible. In practical terms, this might include investing in creative and inviting entrance signage, putting up ‘what’s on today’ information boards, and dedicating time to welcoming people and introducing them to activities and equipment. It will also mean making it as straightforward as possible to run or take part in a community activity in a park, while allowing that there will be some limitations. There may be implications for parks design too, so that landscaping, equipment and facilities together signal that this is a place anyone can visit ‘to come together, spend time alone, be active or pause and reflect’ (Parks for Health Vision).

Finally, a successful permissive culture will need to be a sharing one. Parks are community assets to which everyone should have access, but not at the expense of someone else. These Encouragements designed by staff at Toynbee Hall for their new space Mallon Gardens may provide some inspiration.

Ground Rules Encouragements for Mallon Gardens, Tower Hamlets


What Parks for Health encouragements would you add?

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