Big Insights: What next for community spaces?

Last week I attended an event organised by Big Lottery Fund to help them consider the future of their funding for community spaces. Various organisations and charities who work with and support local people on public and open space projects were there to listen to others and to share their own experiences.

The public space agenda of different government departments was presented by landscape consultant, Peter Neal. We then heard about the Barnfield Estate Wellness Garden – a community open space improvement project that has been very successful in Greenwich thanks to effective partnership working. Group discussions followed.

The key thoughts and questions arising from the day were:

  • Any support organisation or project partner working on a community open space needs to have a full appreciation and understanding of the area in which they’re working (its history, residents and level of affluence/deprivation)
  • The success of the Barnfield Estate scheme is thanks to the mutual trust and respect between the residents, the council and the other support organisations. We discussed the importance of this equal relationship and the role of independent facilitators in community space projects
  • There are a wealth of resources available to community groups working on open spaces, but how do groups find out about these? We agreed that people and especially facilitators give the greatest support, but with limited capacity and jobs under threat this isn’t always possible. We need to ensure that infrastructure is built to allow community groups to share knowledge and experiences. (I know through our Study Tours that one of the most valuable things for community groups is the chance to meet one another and learn from each other’s successes and challenges.)
  • We felt that there is potential for community open space projects to engage more with the private sector and this ought to be explored
  • One of the key challenges for community open space projects is securing long term funding for their management and maintenance. Groups need to be encouraged to think about this from the outset

The overriding sense was that we need to create better communication and links between groups, networks and support organisations working on community spaces. In the current climate, I think this need for collaboration is greater than ever.