For the past 9 months, we’ve been busy working on various projects within the Department of Communities and Local Government funded COMA programme. As the programme comes close to its end in March this year, we reflect on the progress so far.

We are very pleased to be partners on the Community Ownership and Management of Assets (COMA) programme, which is funded by central government (the Department of Communities and Local Government) and co-ordinated by Locality.

Across England, there are 51 partnerships exploring the transfer of the ownership or management of public assets to the community, in its various forms. This year long programme is particularly aimed at partnerships exploring the future of “complex, or multiple” assets: a category that suits our focus on parks and public spaces very well.  We have been involved with 7 of the 51 partnerships, all focussing in interesting and varied ways on the future management of land.

Country Parks are a recurring theme:

We’re continuing our relationship with Elvaston Castle, working with Derbyshire County Council and the National Trust to create a new trust to take on the management of this historic listed castle and park. We’ve helped establish a development board to act in the interests of a future management body, and are working with the council to develop an implementation plan for the transfer of this complex but wonderful place to a new organisation.

We’re also supporting the Churnet Valley Living Landscape Partnership, co-ordinated by the Staffordshire Wildlife Trust, as it considers its future beyond its current funding. The Churnet Valley is home to seven country parks and a number of smaller green spaces and nature reserves. We’re helping them look at the potential for taking on or coordinating the management of all or some of these spaces. This will feed into Staffordshire County Council’s review of the management of its countryside sites.

Another Wildlife Trust, this time in Herefordshire, is also looking at the future of a country park. Herefordshire Wildlife Trust and New Leaf (a small not-for-profit co-operative) are working together to create a new organisation to take a long lease on Queenswood Country Park and Bodenham Lake, two vital countryside assets in the county. They are close to signing a lease with the County Council, and we’ve been working with them to access the legal advice they need and supporting them in thinking about the governance of and community involvement in the new organisation.

Significant urban parks also feature:

The Friends of Meersbrook Hall are working with Heeley Development Trust and Sheffield City Council to consider the future of a neighbourhood park and associated Hall and the possibility of bringing it into community management. We have been supporting the different partners to consider their objectives for the transfer and how they can best work together, and engage the local community, in order to achieve it.

Our most southerly project is with Southbourne Parish Council, near Chichester, which is creating a new “green ring” of footpaths, orchards and other woodland spaces around the village. We’ve been helping them explore the best way to do this: whether a new organisation should be set up, and if so what kind, as well as how best to acquire land for community and environmental use in an area of significant development pressure.

We’ve been working as a consultant with the Crystal Palace Community Stakeholder Group and the London Borough of Bromley. The Council are committed to the establishment of a new independent organisation to manage this extensive and significant urban park. The park contains a complex array of cultural, environmental, leisure and heritage assets, each with its own community of users, stakeholders and Friends. We are working with Community Stakeholder Group to help them explore how this range of different community interests, passions and expertise can best support the operation, management and governance of the park in the future.

We’ve also provided consultancy services to Totnes Community Development Society and South Hams District Council, as the community look at the potential for taking more control of the green and public spaces in the town. The brief was to produce a review of the best practice in community green space management. Our response was a report which outlined the good models which do exist, but which made the point that we are in new territory when it comes to the management of parks and open spaces. This level of interest in transferring the management of these spaces out of council control (and often with far less money attached to them) is unprecedented.

The projects outlined here are the things that will create the best practice of the future, and it’s very exciting to be working with them.

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