Results from Our Survey of Green Space Friends Groups

View of main path in Queens Park, Crewe, in summer, bordered with leafy green trees, benches and colourful bedding plants.

Last summer, with support from the National Federation of Parks and Green Spaces, the Gardens Trust launched a nationwide survey of Friends group volunteers, who do invaluable work to care for their local green spaces, from parks to cemeteries, gardens to allotments, and many more. We wanted to find out how Friends groups help to look after green spaces; the challenges they face; and their understanding of their site’s development as a designed landscape.

We had a fantastic response from volunteers from 116 volunteers, representing 111 sites and more than 20 Green Spaces Forums. The information we collected has helped us to build a picture of Green Space Friends, their motivation and activities. A quarter of respondents told us that they had formed a Friends group themselves, in response to a perceived threat to the site; another quarter was recruited by existing Friends or local word of mouth. Friends’ top reasons for volunteering were to help look after a green space, enjoy being outside in nature, and contribute to the community.

The volunteers undertake a great range of crucial tasks, from practical work such as gardening and litter picking, to working with other groups, organising events, making management decisions, fundraising and campaigning.

Alongside the positive experiences of volunteering, many of the respondents reported problems. There were three main issues: not enough new volunteers coming forward to help out; the lack of a good relationship with their local parks department/local councils; and a lack of funding, even to cover basic costs like water supply and public liability insurance. Many wrote that they did not feel valued by their local authority.

Local authority funding for public parks and open spaces is critically low. A recent Guardian article states that “almost 25% less in real terms was spent on parks across in England last year (2022) than in 2010, with close to three-quarters of local authorities spending less on parks and open spaces. In total, adjusting for inflation, £327m was taken from parks budgets across the country.” Without volunteers like the Friends, the public green spaces we love would struggle to survive.

We were interested in the volunteers’ knowledge and appreciation of the landscape history of their sites. Although only 5% ranked spending time in an historic landscape as one of their favourite things about volunteering, 65% of responders said they felt very aware of the history of their landscape and 22% thought that this was one of the most significant things about it. Nearly 60% would like more knowledge of their landscape’s heritage, to help them protect and manage it more effectively. We were delighted that, although Friends existing knowledge of the Gardens Trust and County Gardens Trusts was relatively low, around 70% of respondents were interested in connecting with them.

A huge thank you to everyone who took part. We’d love to continue building a relationship with Friends groups, and other volunteers who help to care for public parks, gardens and open spaces. Please subscribe to our eBulletin to hear about opportunities to connect.

You can read our full survey results report here.

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Painswick Roccoco Gardens, the Red House, Photo © Joab Smith