There is a pressing need to rejuvenate the nation’s green spaces, both in the countryside and especially to extend them and improve them in urban areas, closer to where most people live. The green space divide contributes to the nation’s health inequalities. To encourage more purposeful actions and regular physical activity, a step change in the amount and accessibility of green space is needed. To support hard-pressed charities, local authorities and agencies, a new National Landscapes Foundation should be created to increase markedly the funds available for green space management raised from philanthropy and professional fund-raising.
Rising to the Challenge
How do we fund a green renewal in cities, towns and countryside and how do we make this truly a venture for all? We should create a National Landscapes Foundation with a mission of funding a green renewal across the whole country.
England is blessed with many organisations that promote green lifestyles, manage nature reserves and the countryside and promote countryside access. Our network of protected areas, schemes to support nature-friendly farming and nationally protected landscapes are generally widely regarded and successful. Our public footpaths, open access land and the numerous countryside sites managed for people and nature are exemplars. This national effort has been achieved by decades of evolution, partnerships and dynamic and effective voluntary agencies, local authorities and national agencies. But the emphasis of this work has been on land management, rural space and nature and it has left many urban people behind.
The Covid pandemic has shone a light on a terrible divide, between those whose access to green space enables healthier lifestyles and those whose local environments lack green space and the benefits that this brings to health and wellbeing. Over the last few decades conservation and countryside charities and government bodies have begun to refresh their missions, so encompassing the green space needs of a wider, more urban society. These efforts have been piecemeal and the bodies are now hard-pressed to respond fully, coping with falling incomes and austerity.
The Covid 19 pandemic has sadly sharpened the focus on this. During the lockdowns, people confined to local areas had limited opportunities to access safe and inspiring green space in contrast to wealthier, rural or suburban residents with gardens, parks and countryside at hand. We know what can be done with city and town parks whose partial renaissance has been funded by national lottery-funded projects. We know that gardens, urban rivers and lakes, woodlands, grasslands, canal banks and allotments improve the lives of those who visit them, volunteer in their upkeep and who take exercise in them.
The widely respected Glover review of national landscapes (of which I was a part) called for a see-change in the quality and accessibility of the specially designated National Landscapes and argued for a National Landscapes Service.
The challenge is how, at a time of falling charitable income, a period of tight financial settlements and super increases in demand, can we fund a green renewal in our rural and urban green spaces? How can we turn the nation’s love and connection to green space into a national calling and programme which expands the actions of the many voluntary bodies and agencies managing existing and potential new green spaces?
I was incredibly lucky in 2019 to visit Washington and the US National Parks Service and their National Parks Foundation. Faced with falling funds and growing demands, successive US administrations have helped the US National Parks Foundation to grow, focusing its efforts on a substantial, national-level programme of philanthropy. I saw at first-hand the contribution what a dedicated, highly professional and successful philanthropy programme has achieved for US citizens in their National Parks network, raising over $40m in 2019 with ambitious plans for growth.
Our situation in Britain is different, not least that our network of volunteer and government agencies is more complex. However, there is no reason why our ambition should not be as great and as in the US. Philanthropy is an important part of our natural environment, heritage, arts and educational provision. It should become part of our national landscapes and green space policy.
I propose here that the Government should seed-fund a National Landscapes Foundation, contributing to the green renewal of our towns and cities. To start this process, the Government should consider the correct legal framework, find some initial seed-corn funding and build key relationships with agencies and parts of Government to garner support for the new Foundation. This should be followed by the following 5 key steps:
i. Appoint a dynamic, well-connected and articulate Chair of the Foundation and a well-connected Board and create the legal and (if necessary) legislative basis for the organisation.
ii. The Board should advertise for a highly experienced, commercial Director with relevant expertise in high level partnerships, funding and philanthropy.
iii. A small, highly empowered and skilled staff of relationship managers should be appointed to support the Director in approaching and building productive relationships with high net worth individuals, companies, trusts and other funding agencies.
iv. A clear policy for dispersing funds should be developed, drawing on overseas and established UK trust funds and a small executive team should be appointed to administer and communicate this to applicants, the public and decision-makers. Detailed programmes would be developed by applicant bodies, such as the National Trust or local authorities.
v. There should be close relations with local fundraising groups concerned with individual places (such as the foundations being established in some National Parks) such that synergy and not confusion is achieved in fund-raising goals.
Drawing on experience from overseas and the established UK philanthropic sector, clear pathways, policies and communications would be developed to bring likely successful propositions to the NLF Board.
With resolution and vision, a new and sustained stream of funding will enable the rejuvenation of a much more accessible green space for all.