Sunnybank Park, Aberdeen : a semi-autonomous management model

sunnyside1Previous posts have highlighted the need for new business models to run parks, given ongoing cuts in government funding.  NESTA have produced a report ‘Rethinking Parks’ by Peter Neal which highlights the challenges in developing and adapting new business models for parks. This includes ensuring public parks are integral to, and reflective of the surrounding cultural, socio-economic and physical context. In some contexts private management models for public parks may offer a sustainable financial model, while in other areas cooperative management with local communities may be a more viable option. 

The PERIURBAN Parks project, which ran from January 2009 to  December 2012, was funded by the  INTERREG IVC Regional Initiative  bringing together 14 European partners interested in exchanging experience on policies to manage these areas, through the creation and management of parks, with a focus on mitigating pressures on biodiversity. The following example of a semi-autonomous model for park management was featured in the projects June 2012 newsletter.

Following a review of public outdoor sports facilities, Aberdeen City Council decided to close some of the less well used sites in order to reduce costs.  When Aberdeen’s Sunnybank Park, Aberdeen, Scotland came under threat of development in 2009, the local community came together to protect it and to ensure a vibrant future for the much-loved greenspace. . In response, the community group “Friends of Sunnybank Park” formed. In 2010, the group became an Unincorporated Association – a legally recognised structure with a Constitution and elected Management Committee. A document setting out the geographical location, history and development of the Friends Association plus information on funding secured and the development of the park since 2010 click here 

A questionnaire was distributed around the area by the Friends association and an open day was held in conjunction with the local school. The results were used to put together a plan for the park, which formed the basis for funding applications. The plans included

  • Improving access to and within the park
  • Planting more trees
  • Making a community orchard
  • Wildlife improvements such as managing the wet area and erecting bird boxes
  • Restoring the tennis courts for sports use
  • Retaining and improving the children’s play area
  • Restoring the historic well – the Gibberie Wallie
  • Making a formal garden in the old bowling green
  • Allotments / community growing site

In February 2011, the group became a Scottish Charity Incorporated Organisation, which offers a higher status as an organisation and better access to funding. Having prepared a Business Plan, including site and financial plans the group signed a lease for the ground with Aberdeen City Council. As part of this, the Friends of Sunnybank Park agreed to take full responsibility for improving, managing and maintaining the park.

Local people can show their support by becoming a Friend of Sunnybank Park, making a donation, and getting involved with for example management, fundraising, arts, heritage, and sport, hands-on work on nature conservation and maintaining and improving the park itself. Although this means that the local people carry out all of the maintenance of the park, these resources are significantly less than under the previous Council regime, which had been estimated at £50,000 per year (approx. € 61,818 per year). As a result, management of the site has shifted from being a well-manicured ‘park’ style, to a wilder, more natural green space.

“Finding the park was a completely unexpected discovery… it led to meeting lots of wonderful people” Committee Member, Friends of Sunnybank Park

The Friends of Sunnybank Park hold volunteer mornings where the community carries out litter picks and pruning and the group organize community picnics in the park, foraging and other events. A partnership with national charity, The Conservation Volunteers was established to set up and run a Green Gym – an initiative that encourages people to improve both their health and the environment, through physical exercise outdoors. The funding for this came through the Landfill Tax Credits scheme. The local school also runs a Forest School initiative in the park.

The Friends of Sunnybank Park have also been successful in bids for funding to Aberdeen Greenspace Trust and the Climate Challenge Fund, totalling £95,000 (approx. € 117,473). These delivered new paths, fencing, allotments, and other works. A further potential project involving a teenage recreation area, including bouldering wall and graffiti wall is coming forward through a partnership with local radio station, Northsound 1’s Cash for Kids fundraising programme.

Importantly, all of the hours of work invested voluntarily by local people are recorded as ‘in-kind’ contributions, based on a £50 per person per day rate (approx. € 62/person/day) for unskilled work, and for management committee work, a professional rate of £150 per day (approx. € 186 per day) is recorded. These contributions act as levers for additional monies, and are referred to in funding applications as match, or partnership funding.

Overall the Friends of Sunnybank Park Association estimate that between grant funding and volunteer time, a total of around £250,000 (approx. € 309,116) investment has been achieved for the Park in its first 18 months of operation, much of this investment could not have been obtained under Council control.

National charity Greenspace Scotland, in collaboration with the Friends of Sunnybank Park, carried out a Social Return on Investment analysis (SROI analysis) of the community events associated with Sunnybank Park, as part of a Scottish Government initiative. SROI follows a set of principles that can be used to measure the social, environmental and economic benefits that projects or activities deliver, and calculate a monetary value of these benefits, in comparison to the amount of money invested.

It is clear that Sunnybank Park has become an even more valued focal point for the community and has benefited local people’s lives in a vast range of ways. However, the SROI analysis helps to back this up in financial terms, concluding that for only the community events aspect, one small part of the whole, every £1 invested generates around £8 (approx. € 9,89) in social benefits.

There are a number of possible management models for greenspace, ranging from central control right to full autonomy. The experience from Sunnybank Park shows that the semi autonomous model can work, it relies heavily however on the very strong dedication, commitment and enthusiasm of members of the local community, and will therefore not be the answer in all situations.

Further information at: /


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