Last week I attended the 2021 Service Dealer Conference and Awards at the DoubleTree by Hilton Oxford Belfry Hotel where over 120 delegates attended, hosted by Service Dealer and TurfPro owner, Duncan Murray-Clarke.
This was the third awards dinner and conference I have attended, and it was really pleasing to be back amongst industry peers and the plethora of professional dealership owners and their staff to enjoy a well organised and entertaining event.
After the postponement of last year’s conferences due to the pandemic, and considering that covid is still firmly ingrained in people’s minds, it was encouraging to see so many businesses enthusiastic to meet up and celebrate this year’s awards.
For me, it was rewarding to be able to meet with people face to face again and catch up with the news and gossip from the industry. I enjoyed chats with heads of manufacturers such as David Hart or David Withers for example and many others representing dealerships from the country, who like me were pleased to be able to meet up with friends and colleagues from our ever-changing industry.
A full report from my colleague Steve Gibbs, editor of Service Dealer, can be read here.
I personally always enjoy attending the awards ceremony, where we recognise the commitment and endeavour of our professional dealers, with nine awards presented - including Overall Dealer of the Year which was won by Hayes Machinery of South Moulton, Devon.
I particularly enjoy discovering who wins the Service Dealer Outstanding Contribution awards. This year the honour went to two well deserved stalwarts of our industry -Kevin Ashmore, retired from Husqvarna UK and my good friend Robin Lennie, retired from STIHL GB. Both have given many years of service to our industry. It was delightful to catch up with Robin and have the chance to wish him well in his retirement.
I would personally like to thank Duncan and his amazing staff who worked tirelessly to get this day on and successfully deliver a well organised, safe and enlightening Conference and Awards. It was soundly enjoyed by all those who attended.
A full list of the winners can be read here.
Last week I also had another opportunity to conduct some ‘mystery shopper’ Green Flag parks visits, that took me to two community parks managed by Walsall Borough Council. The first up was Willenhall Memorial Park, a significant local landmark annd a valuable, well used resource and amenity for the local community and the borough of Walsall.
Willenhall Memorial Park was created in the early 1920s to commemorate the many people who died in the Great War. The Park was formed out of 22ha of derelict former mining land to the west of Willenhall Town Centre.
Afforestation of the pit mounds was carried out by unemployed servicemen returning from the war. The resulting woodland is now an attractive backdrop to the Park’s many facilities; which include a bandstand, bowling green, children’s play area, fishing pool and community pavilion.
There was plenty of evidence of the park’s affinity with the First World War with a number of sculptures and buildings that where fittingly dressed with poppies from the recent remembrance services that took place in the park recently.
With the autumn colours at their peak, the park looked amazing and there were plenty of locals using the park, in particular a large group of walkers who were on a guided tour.
To have such a diverse landscape environment on your doorstep is truly amazing. However, having said that, I know from my dealings with parks managers they are still very firmly under the cosh when it comes to funding for general maintenance regimes. Over the last twenty-five years we have seen a constant decline in parks budgets, mainly driven by the fact that parks services are not a statutory service - therefore their budgets are not wholly protected / ring fenced.
Many inhouse restructures have seen the old parks departments I once knew, now changed out of all recognition. Many local authorities are now part of a bigger department, usually coming under a highways and public realm.
These changes, and the fact that council budgets across the board have been decimated, means that many maintenance regimes have been severely affected in terms of operational frequencies and levels of horticultural practices being downgraded. In essence we have lost the polish and attention to detail.
Many councils up and down the country have downgraded spring and summer bedding schemes, reduced cutting / mowing operations and generally downgraded the time spent in the park.
During my visit I noticed that the park’s bowling green was not being maintained and wasn’t in a condition to play bowls on. A very sad decline of what was once was a well-respected pastime.
Many councils have done away with their bowling greens to save money. Also, I feel there is a general lack of support and a downturn in people taking up the sport.
Over the last ten years I have seen a dramatic decline in bowls club membership, with little interest in taking up the sport, particularly by younger people. I firmly put some of the blame on the sport’s governing body, who for many years have not been seen to promote the sport to encourage new people to take it up. Couple this with the fact that current bowls membership is at an all-time low and the income most clubs generate via club fees erc, does not even pay for a year’s maintenance of the green. This complete lack of interest in the sport and the fact that they cannot generate the fees to run as a viable concern, has been a major factor in the closure of many clubs up and down the country in recent years - especially the bowls facilities seen in local authority parks.
It is certainly a worrying trend that I hope we can resolve with some better publicity and promotion for the skilled sport.
As for the other park, Kings Hills Park, this was again another very valuable piece of open space that is being well used by the public and provides a wonderful open space environment that provides recreation and a place to enjoy for the locals. How do you put a price on these tracts of land? In my view they are priceless lands assets that need to be protected. In this park’s case it has been protected under the charter of Fields in Trust.
Walsall, like many other councils, is fighting hard to retain these valuable assets and keep them preserved and maintained for future generations. That’s why I became a member of the Parks Management Association, an organisation formed by Paul Rabbits who is himself a parks manager and is trying to bring together an organisation that can “..represent professionals working in public parks and green spaces.”
There are 398 principal (unitary, upper and second tier) councils in the UK – 24 county councils, 181 district councils, 36 metropolitan councils, and 124 unitary councils. There are around 11,000 local councils in the UK, from town councils to parish councils. These councils, along with a number of trusts, charities and other organisations, manage between them 27,000 public parks across the country and employ a significant number of professionals to manage and maintain them within such service areas including streetcare, waste services, leisure services, community services, neighbourhood services and cultural services. It is now a rarity to find an authority that retains its distinct ‘parks service’ as it has most likely to have been absorbed into a wider departmental structure. Yet public perception is very different, and many still perceive that ‘parks departments’ still exist.
Paul and I spoke at the recent SALTEX show, along with Mark Camley another parks professional, discussing the current state of parks.