Introducing park pioneers | by Real Ideas

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Covid has been a prominent reminder that if we are to have healthy and happy citizens, a cityscape is not complete without high-quality natural spaces.

They are the city’s lungs, our green highways  – everyone’s back yard, playground and wilderness. Whether a park jogger, coffee sipper, swing pusher, forest bather, dog walker, goalkeeper, wanderer or ponderer – we flock to them, we love them, and the pandemic has shown us that we need them.

As a dad, I depend upon playgrounds, open fields, skate parks, trails, and pockets of nature – ‘can I go to the playground’ rings in my ears several times each day, no matter the season. Sure, you say, we know parks and nature matter, but how do we sustain and improve them into the future? In a time of climate breakdown, reducing public budgets, economic uncertainty, Covid fallout, and a trend for more accessible and experiential activities, how do we achieve ‘parktopia’?

Luckily, Plymouth has an abundance of natural spaces – parks, reserves, woods, waterfront, and everything in between, as well as plenty of compassionate, innovative, and determined business-minded people. We are a social enterprise city, with over 200 social businesses currently in operation. At Real Ideas, we have over 14 years’ experience of building, running, growing social enterprises and we are part of the Power to Change’s ground-breaking Empowering Places programme to create more community led business in Plymouth. Throw in Plymouth’s new status as a FAB City, a council committed to creating a ‘fairer and greener Plymouth’ and you have a promising combination.

Through the excellent Future Parks Accelerator and Green Minds programmes, a huge amount of development and positive change to our natural spaces has already been seen over the last two years – but programmes only last so long and we must have sustainable, long term solutions that offer ecological and economic regeneration.

As a partner of Future Parks and Green Minds, Real Ideas has been successful in supporting more social enterprise, community business activity in parks – bringing together a network of leaders from public sector, enterprise, and local communities, proposing changes to encourage more good business in parks. Read more about the Enrich network and the recommended proposals in this report. You can read the report’s executive summary here.

But what next and how do we know this is really making a difference?

Introducing community business park pioneers

We have discovered many locally rooted businesses existing in Plymouth that are committed to benefitting our communities, and many of these are in our parks. Imagine if you could catch a theatre production, play golf frisbee, tend beehives, grow food, compost, drop your kids at nursery, or go to the gym in a park? Well, you can now, or will soon be able to, thanks to existing businesses and those opening in the near future. Some of these include Snapdragons in Victoria Park, Stiltskin’s Soapbox Theatre Company in Devonport Park, Pollenize CIC, Food Plymouth and the Village Hub in Blockhouse Park, all part of the Empowering Places programme, doing great things for their communities and raising the bar on what is possible.

We believe these community businesses can play a leading role in regenerating nature and communities, increasing the diversity of park services and use, whilst sustaining themselves and our parks. By bringing these community business pioneers together the effects can be magnified and transformative and offer a model that can be grown and replicated. Over the next two years, we will be working with community businesses pioneers in Central, Victoria, and Devonport Parks to determine the best approaches to creating more community businesses, strengthening networks, and long-term sustainability.

Interested? Want to know more? Are you a community business or social entrepreneur? Do you have an idea for social or environmental project?

Get in touch – email tom.butt@realideas.org