While parks and open spaces became a place of refuge and respite for the general public during lockdown, parks staff at Rugby were focused on supporting the delivery of essential services.
While parks and open spaces became a place of refuge and respite for the general public during lockdown, parks staff at Rugby were focused on supporting the delivery of essential services. They traded their lawnmowers and compost for food deliveries and distribution of PPE equipment. They enabled the council to respond quickly to the crisis and acted as a lifeline for some of the most vulnerable members of the local community.
Rugby Borough Council in Warwickshire is home to around 108,000 people. It has 32 parks, 71 green spaces, 19 nature sites, 50 play areas totalling over 360 hectares. It welcomes over 1 million visitors to its parks each year. The council’s park service includes 29 staff and an active and valued community of volunteers.
Throughout the pandemic parks and green spaces in Rugby remained open except very small pocket play parks. All facilities including play areas, ball courts, toilets and cafes were closed in line with government guidance.
Parks staff were called upon to redirect their time and efforts to support the council’s urgent community response to the pandemic. Parks and Grounds Manager, Chris Worman had undertaken emergency preparedness training and was well placed to deploy the parks team quickly to respond to the crisis.
The majority of Grounds Maintenance staff were redeployed to deliver essential services via the Rugby Foodbank and Community Hub. Staff stopped their usual parks related work and focused on distributing food, medicines and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to the most vulnerable members of the community who were shielding.
During the lockdown period the council's community wardens worked closely with green space officers and the police supporting monitoring of social distancing, checking on closed play areas, replacing signage and intelligence gathering.
Nearly 1,700 supply packages were made up and distributed to over 300 shielding residents from the Community Hub. The emotional support the team was able to offer went well beyond supplying tins of food and toiletries.
The hub catered for vegetarian, vegan and other dietary requirements, while making sure residents with pets received cat, dog and even fish food.
Supply packages also contained activity packs created by Rugby Art Gallery and Museum, which included puzzle books, sketch pads, pencils, paints and 'lockdown diaries' for children
The foodbank operation provided more than 700 food parcels to residents and delivered nearly 150 parcels to people unable to visit the foodbank to collect.
Donations of food and toiletries from generous residents and community organisations totalled 37,500kg, ensuring all residents referred to the Foodbank received support.
How is the new approach being sustained?
Many of the staff were brought back to normal operations in June 2020 with some continuing to balance out the needs of the social hub until its closure in mid-July. The pandemic created a three-month backlog of maintenance work. This included grass cutting, weed spraying and footpath clearance and these are a priority for the service to address.
The work of the parks service has shown how flexible and adaptive parks teams can be in providing a response in a crisis.
The experience of lockdown has also enhanced the profile of parks and highlighted their importance to communities.
In addition, it has helped to develop a movement towards making the recovery a green one and has pushed climate change up the agenda. The Council has found there has been of a ‘biodiversity bonus’ with areas of grass left uncut until August providing new habitats for insects and wildflowers. They are looking at repeating some of these areas next year.
Parks and green spaces have a key role to play in a green recovery and as such the council have established a climate emergency members group that has highlighted 3 main areas of focus that affect the parks service, including tree planting, grassland management and the development of the Rugby Parks Connector Network.
"Parks and green spaces have been brought into focus as currently they are the only public spaces where people can meet and exercise however this may bring future challenges in terms of potential visitor numbers". Chris Worman, Parks and Grounds Manager, Rugby Borough Council