We are honoured that today’s guest post is by The Royal Parks (London) Chief Executive, Ms Linda Lennon CBE.
While on a recent holiday in Australia I was delighted to be able to have a look around Centennial Parklands and to learn more about these wonderful public spaces – Sydneysiders are very fortunate to have such a space so central to the city.
Walking round Centennial Parklands with Peter Hadfield, Executive Officer of Centennial Parklands Foundation, I was struck by the many similarities that we have. Aside from our heritage, and the pride and pleasure we both provide to the public, it seems many of the challenges we face in preserving and enhancing London’s eight Royal Parks are present here in Sydney.
Like Centennial Parklands, The Royal Parks needs to balance our environmental and social aims with our financial situation. Our funding is similar, in that The Royal Parks is required to raise a large proportion of its operating budget. We both therefore have to think creatively and sensitively about how to achieve this.
A substantial amount of funding is raised by hosting a variety of cultural events such as music concerts and art exhibitions – we even have Taste of London, which is similar to your Taste of Sydney!
Like the parklands, our spaces are free to visit and enjoy, and we encourage visitors to enjoy refreshments in our cafes and restaurants and hire sporting facilities. We also lease park buildings as private dwellings, or for art galleries and wedding venues, while licensing the use of parks for film crews all help generate revenue in a manner that has a low impact on the park and its visitors.
The Royal Parks Foundation also helps raise funds by enabling people to adopt ducks and deer, as well as engaging sponsors to help restore and maintain different aspects of our parks.
Managing high profile spaces like the parklands and the Royal Parks comes with expectations of the standards and attention to detail we will meet. For example, did you know the red geraniums which are planted in the summer months in the Memorial Gardens outside of Buckingham Palace are chosen to match the red uniforms of the Guards who protect the Palace?
The Mall, probably the world’s most famous ceremonial procession route, and Horse Guards Parade actually form part of St James Park, and the Park Manager regularly works with members of the Royal Household, government agencies and event organisers to plan national state occasions and high profile events.
Last summer was particularly spectacular and intense with The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Concert, big viewing screens and, not forgetting, the royal carriage procession all featuring parts of St James’s and Hyde parks. With barely time to breathe the parks were transformed for the Games with The Mall becoming the most famous finishing line in the world, Horse Guards a beach volleyball arena and Hyde a triathlon course.
In all we were very proud to successfully host 11 Olympic and Paralympic events including Equestrian, Marathon Swim, Marathon and Triathlon events.
However, even success sometimes presents a challenge and since the world wide promotion of the parks during London 2012, we face extra demand to host an increased number of sporting events and facilities. This challenge of expectation and hosting events of course is also linked with the need to restore the parks – a delicate challenge universally faced by park managers.
As well as working with ‘official’ partners, it seems that like Centennial Parklands we have communities that love the parks, but who use them in a number of diverse ways such as sporting activity, attending events, or simply enjoying the features of the natural landscape for relaxation. As challenging as it can be managing these sometimes competing expectations and demands, it is absolutely key to achieving our aims that we engage with all our local communities and stakeholders to ensure they understand our aims and actions, and we understand theirs.
Talking to Peter I was very interested to learn more about Centennial Parklands’ volunteer programmes and absolutely loved hearing about the value of the ‘Men’s Sheds’. It’s clear they carry out invaluable work, by amongst other things restoring and repairing park furniture and I am sure their efforts are appreciated by all.
At The Royal Parks we could not do without the help of our volunteers and Friends groups – each park has a Friends Group whose support varies from helping to run information kiosks, to raising funds for specific projects and running guided walks. Our large band of volunteers, help with specific tasks such as recording wildlife or helping to look after allotment gardens.
So looking at Centennial Parklands and The Royal Parks one cannot help but be struck by the similarity of our challenges; the ways we look to generate income, working with partners and having the support of the local community is absolutely critical to the future of our parks.
I would like to conclude by sending a heartfelt thank you to Peter, who took time out to give me a tour of the Parklands. It was a wonderful experience and a highlight of my trip so far.
We had planned to meet during the Games, but my busy schedule and Peter’s commentary commitments on ABC meant it didn’t work out. Fortunately due to my decision to visit friends who emigrated to Wahroonga means I was able to accept Peter’s kind offer of hosting a visit around these wonderful parklands. I have no doubt we will stay in touch, sharing our experiences.
Finally I’d like to wish a happy birthday to Centennial Park. There can be fewer better looking 125 years olds! It is a marvellous park, and at this grand age offers so much to the residents of Sydney and all those who are lucky enough to visit.
– – –
About our guest blogger
Ms Linda Lennon CBE is Chief Executive of The Royal Parks in the United Kingdom. In this role, Ms Lennon oversees the management of eight historic parks across London, totalling 5,000 acres, as well as several other high profile public spaces. Linda was formerly the Chief Executive of the Parole Board (UK). Prior to this, she was Area Director for the Civil and Family Courts in London and has thirty years of experience of working in the Courts in London and the South East.