Innovation and voluntary groups in Norwich praised as report warns country’s parks could face ‘decline and neglect’

Autumn trees at Eaton Park.Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Autumn trees at Eaton Park.Picture: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

For years they have been pockets of calm made for play, exercise and rest. But a new report warns that stretched council budgets could spell a decline in the beloved British park. Lauren Cope reports on the picture in Norwich

The public make the most of the last few days of the Norfolk and Norwich Festival in Chapelfield Gar

The public make the most of the last few days of the Norfolk and Norwich Festival in Chapelfield Gardens. Pictured are Debbie Dickinson and Duncan Smith.Picture: MARK BULLIMORE

From grand green expanses to humble community oases, Norwich is a city of open spaces.

It boasts dozens, including Grade II-listed parks and plenty which are home to local sports teams, music events and fundraisers.

Nationally, parks are in favour – according to a new report by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), 57pc of adults now visit their park once a month or more, while 90pc of families with children under five head to theirs at least monthly.

But while more than £850m of lottery cash has been invested across the country, the State of UK Public Parks 2016 study warns that budget cuts could see parks neglected – with 95pc of park managers bracing themselves for further pruning.

Waterloo Park pavilion.Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Waterloo Park pavilion.Picture: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

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Here in Norwich, funding has remained stable when considering inflation – from 2010-11 Norwich City Council invested £1.47m in parks, while in 2015-16, they poured in £1.67m.

And while some are in need of a revamp – people we spoke to cited Waterloo Park as an example – by and large, the picture is positive.

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An entrepreneurial spirit and partnership with voluntary groups – which spare about £70m worth of man-hours nationally – has seen Eaton Park in particular flourish, with new attractions added and usage through the roof.

Helen Mitchell, chairman of the Friends of Eaton Park, which works closely with the city council, described the 80-acre space as a 'beacon in dark times'.

'We are lucky that the council has been imaginative about the ways it can cope with funding,' she said. 'For instance, the café has been rented out again and new crazy golf has been set up, which is a private enterprise. So these are things for the public to enjoy, but also a way of generating extra income.

'Usage is just going up and up for us, so we are very lucky.'

She said the effects of cuts were more visible at other city parks, including Waterloo and Wensum, and said it was vital that councils worked with voluntary groups.

'These are challenging times and the cuts are terrible,' she said, 'but in parallel it has started the conversation about parks. The door has been opened a little for the reason of cuts, but it has captured people's interest, there's more talking and more work being done.

'Parks are so incredibly important and it is so sad to see what is happening elsewhere.'

While many of Norwich's parks are currently without a Friends group, Heigham Park has recently set up its own to work with the council.

Roger Ryan, city council cabinet member for parks and open spaces said: 'Norwich, like any authority, is not immune to the effects of reduced government funding. However, our wonderful parks and open spaces are critical to the wellbeing of our residents and we'll continue to prioritise their upkeep and maintenance to ensure they don't fall into 'decline and neglect' – a risk the HLF has identified as potentially being the case for some.'

He also praised the 'truly impressive' number of people in the area willing to sacrifice their time ensure parks remain a focus.

• What do you think? Write, giving full contact details, to Letters Editor, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE.

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