There are local examples of community involvement in parks and pen spaces that could be extended or used as models:
6.1 Friends of Singleton Lake
Singleton Lake and Buxford Meadow is an open space in the Parish of Great Chart with Singleton, to the immediate north-west of South Ashford. It is owned by Kent County Council but they had little involvement in its upkeep. The Great Stour, a main river for which the Environment Agency has responsibility runs through the site and feeds the Lake. It is a designated open space in the Ashford Local Plan and part of the Green Corridor. ABC employs Kentish Stour Countryside Partnership to advise and undertake some maintenance along the Green Corridor. Following a public meeting in March 2015, a management plan was created, as part of which, Great Chart with Singleton Parish Council agreed to oversee the formation of a community group. The group
- acts as a pressure group to get things done
- does some practical work to improve the area.
- raises funds for improvements.
- engages other local people.
As a result community cohesion is increased, the community have a voice in the management of the space and appreciation and respect for the area is increased among the local community.
It has proved difficult to engender community engagement in South Ashford but we believe there is scope for a ‘friends’ group for Victoria Park and Watercress Fields. A successful group could lead to formation of groups for other open spaces.
6.2 KCC Countryside Access Wardens
KCC employs volunteers to help keep the public rights of way network open. They:
- Fix waymarker discs where paths change direction
- Attach path-end number signs where paths leave the road
- Spot vegetation clearance around furniture and choke points’
- Maintain gate hinges to ensure proper closure
- Report more significant faults via an online form or telephone
- Report work completed no less than 10 times per year
- Carry out basic inspections & photographing evidence for obstruction of PROWs by private landowners
KCC provide training, tools and insurance to Countryside Access Wardens.
We would like to see a similar system of volunteers used to carry out some basic maintenance in parks and open spaces. This could be beneficial where small tasks are undertaken that would involve excessive administration or travel and transport when undertaken by Council employees.
6.3 Ashford Oaks Primary School: Project Purple
Working in partnership with staff from the Aspire community group and Kent Wildlife Trust, pupils of Ashford Oaks Primary School have created a welcoming place where residents can socialise within a non-designated open space in South Ashford. The project has proceeded over a number of years with different year 6 pupils. Last year the children:
- tended the flower planters,
- managed the area to prevent litter and broken glass,
- constructed more benches for people to sit and come together.
- constructed a set of small goal posts as part of a play area.
The project was started after some pupils had has given children an appreciation of the environment and a sense of ownership for their community and pride for where they live.
Similar projects could be created to engender such responsibility for open spaces among local residents.
6.4 Victoria Park Youth Sculpture Trail
Three local schools worked with an artist to create the sculptures and engage in the natural heritage of Victoria Park. Together they made site visits, tree rubbings, and engaged in woodland craft workshops to create an oak sculpture trail across the park. The project was funded from receipts from plastic carrier bag charges by a supermarket.
This project engaged young people and their families in the local park and engendered a sense of ownership.
Such schemes may be more attractive to funders than direct approaches by local authorities but as stated in 5 above, we don’t believe that grant funding offers a complete solution. We do believe there is scope for community involvement in the management and maintenance of parks which might relieve some pressure on local authority budgets but would not provide sufficient funds or resources to fully support parks and open spaces.