Community involvement in the restoration of historic urban parks : with a specific focus on the Heritage Lottery Fund's Urban Parks Programme grant-aided park restoration projects
Community involvement is nowadays commonly recognised as an integral part of any successful environmental planning, development and regeneration process. Focusing on a selection of park restoration projects grant-aided by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) in 1997 under the Urban Parks Programme (UPP), this research aimed primarily to investigate the involvement of local communities in the process of regenerating run-down historic urban parks. The study adopted a triangulation methodology which combined both quantitative and qualitative research approaches and employed multiple data-collecting techniques including a postal questionnaire survey, semi-structured interviews, focus groups and on-site park user surveys. The results of the postal questionnaire survey reveal that park restoration partnerships between local authorities, private sector, voluntary organisations and local community-based groups can commonly be observed in many of the historic urban park restoration projects funded by the HLF under the UPP. Local authorities in general played the leading role in forming and running park restoration partnerships and they were the major contributors to the matched funding and the required technical support for the restoration projects. The involvement of friends groups and other local organisations in park restoration partnerships was relatively moderate, but the case studies of this research demonstrate that friends groups and other local organisations can have a more substantial influence on the overall development of the restoration project when the park restoration partnership is formally established. The study has found that local communities have been extensively involved in the restoration process of historic urban parks. The two most significant objectives of engaging local communities in regenerating run-down historic urban parks are to generate a sense of ownership of the restoration project and its outcome and to better reflect local needs. Local communities tend to be more involved at early stages of the restoration project than at later stages. The methods that have been commonly used to involve local communities are mainly for information giving and consultation. The seven in-depth case studies reveal that 'Friends of Parks' groups are in general the focus of community involvement in the UPP funded park restoration projects. 'Friends of Parks' groups can act as pressure groups, guardians and/or supporters of the park and to be the local community's voice. They can make considerable contributions to the regeneration of their local parks, mainly in the areas of publicity, park events and activities, fund raising, public consultation, project monitoring, involving school children, and the ongoing management of the restored park. The most important contributory factor to effective community involvement is a good relationship between the local authority and the 'Friends of Parks' groups, which can be achieved mainly by establishing friends groups' trust in the local authority's commitment to caring for urban parks and taking on board the friends groups' views and concerns. Project managers and other practitioners engaged in involving local communities in park restoration processes as well as executive members of 'Friends of Parks' groups are all required to have good communication skills in order to achieve effective community involvement.