TurfPro editor, Laurence Gale, writes . .
As a member of the newly formed Parks Management Forum I would like, over the next few weeks, to introduce you to some of the key members of the Forum. The intention is to gain a better understanding of the role parks managers play in managing and maintaining our vital public open spaces that we have treasured during this Covid-19 Pandemic.
Philippa Reece, Parks and Foreshore Manager at Adur and Worthing Council
Philippa Reece is a highly experienced and tenacious manager, with an 18 year demonstrable track record of delivering success within both parks and urban green spaces management.
Serving as the lead officer within Greater Manchester for all social housing providers connected to the management of Blue and Green assets, she has brought together city-wide strategies and stakeholders from both the housing sector and the environmental sector for the first time within the region, creating a network of professionals. In turn she has created pioneering approaches to delivery, policy, opportunities, research and obtaining the first Green Flag Award within the Social Housing setting within the North and only the second within the country.
Philippa worked closely with Manchester University and the Mayor’s team in the delivery of the 1st Green Summit within Greater Manchester. Whilst working for Manchester City Councils Parks Department she worked as major events lead.
She presently sits on the Chief Executive’s Climate Emergency Board for Adur and Worthing Council as part of the declaration of a Climate Emergency.
Philippa is also a National and International Green Flag Award Judge as well as social media volunteer for multiple platforms for this profile, which has led to an invite to Buckingham Palace as part of 'service to the environment.'
What made you choose a career in local authority parks management?
As a child my dream was to work in a forest. I then kind of got lost away from that for a period of time and focused on sport. Reflecting back, that was because sport was part of our education system where our world of parks did not feature in our education system at all.
I was then reintroduced back to parks through an ex being a Park Ranger for Manchester City Council and had that dream reignited. Seasonal jobs were available at the time and I was in a good place with my present employer who enabled me to work nights and weekends so that I could work during the week as a seasonal ranger to try and get my foot in the door for full time employment. I was lucky enough to be the only ranger kept on as a full-time role enabling me to then leave my other job and focus on bringing my dream to reality. The rest is history.
How many staff do you manage and what portfolio do you sit in?
I presently have 53 people in the team that I am responsible for and sit within Environmental Service and the Communities directorate as a department.
Are your staff in-house, private contractor or a mix of both?
We are lucky that all our staff are in-house.
What have been the significant challenges you had to face in managing your parks and opens paces in the last few years?
Skill deficit plus an aging workforce and associated challenges with manual work and working outside. Also budget challenges, re-profiling and availability verses demand and wants from the system and public. There is also a climate emergency in the middle of all this as well.
What significant work projects have you managed to complete in the last three years?
I have been blessed to come into this roll just as we obtained heritage lottery funding for the preservation and restoration of the amazing Highdown Gardens.
How have you coped with the repercussions of the Covid-19 pandemic?
Covid-19 has played a huge role with challenges both operationally on the ground, as well as staff being redeployed to help in other sections – plus with the impact on the service delivery connected to that.
The demand on our beaches and parks with so many people not being in work and the volume of waste has been phenomenal. Keep in mind we also have 1/3 of my team not fully operational due to the covid restrictions in place.
Staff have also had to deal with abuse from the public. As they are not seen as an essential service they have been told they 'should be doing something else to help'! It begs the question of what people think our parks would look like if we were not maintaining them?
The unknown factors of this pandemic, for example with last minute updates on changes from the briefing sessions which needed implementing overnight across the sector, has made it a really high-pressured work environment to operate within. Exhausting actually.
I was redeployed into the crematorium as part of the response with no operational managers beneath me being available on site - so 50, 60, 70 hour weeks to try and support both services. Very challenging indeed.
Saying that, I feel proud and honoured to have played a key role in our response to Covid-19 and for the part the team has played.
What are the new challenges for your service coming out of Covid 19?
Who knows really? The feeling of anxiety, venturing into the unknown, is still ever present within staff and our communities in which we operate. My biggest fear is council funding and the impacts that Covid-19 will have on this. Until we understand what that actually means financially, we can only speculate.
Do you think we will have a problem attracting new people into the parks sector in the coming years?
Absolutely. Pay isn't attractive. Lots of people want to career change into our sector, but arrive with no experience or qualifications. Our roles are skilled roles that need appropriate training and experience. It will continue to become ever more challenging.
What changes would you like to see to help parks professionals deliver the best possible service?
We need appropriate representation politically - we don’t even have a parks minister, so we never get a fair crack of the whip.
If we had a minister this could create appropriate funding, resources and opportunities that we have always been battling for. Think of what we could achieve with this in place.
Parks are absolutely vital to us as Covid-19 has highlighted. There is research coming out of our ears also demonstrating this. The big question is why has that not then manifested into us even being deemed as an essential service?
How do you think the newly formed Parks Management Forum can help you to promote and enhance the opportunities and work of the parks professional?
It’s great to have a collective voice of professionals from within the sector that understand our operational world, challenges and opportunities.
We are the group that need to be consulted with as we are the people that truly understand it. Look at the recent guidelines for opening play areas in parks, it couldn't have been further away from what was achievable operationally. This poses the question of what resources they think we actually have - as it was a county mile away from reality.
It also gives us opportunities to support each other plus share our experiences and best practices. To challenge each other also. We also need to have the ability to lobby as a collective to support our cause. As we are government officers we need to be mindful of this.
I am excited to be a part of this journey. Parks really are our national treasure that I want to protect, enhance and love and care for.