I spent the first 2 years of being a Mum living in the centre of Bristol, bang opposite a Victorian park with a fabulous play area and coffee kiosk. Needless to say, I spent a great deal of Hannah’s first years there. The move to beautiful rural Norfolk, to set up our holiday business, was a brilliant decision in many ways. However, I missed having local services at my finger-tips. The tired, unloved local park was a disappointment.
I made some enquires, realised others were unhappy with the park, including local school children and I decided to make some friends and raise some money to update the park. Within 18 months our group of Mums and Dads, with the backing of the Parish Council, confounded many and raised around £35,000. I am pretty sure our local park is now one of the best public parks in Norfolk. There isn’t a coffee kiosk but at least after school and throughout the year the park is well used and Mum’s and Dad’s can chat whilst their children play. It also makes an excellent stop off on the way to the beach for day trippers to the coast or visitors.
Many people have contacted me since to ask how we did it. So here is my guide to raising money for your local play area. The good news is that it is relatively easy and a great way to show your children that if you don’t like something you have the power to change it. Some of the references here are specific to Norfolk but you’ll get the gist if you are outside the county. I suspect too that if you live in a city of town your local council may be more able to help fund or at least match fund your endeavour. I am, of course, no expert but I hope you will find this helpful.
Step 1 – It sound obvious but get some others to help, you can’t do it all by yourself and if you do, any grant application you make won’t work. Grant makers will be looking for evidence of a community project with wide support.
Step 2 – Find out who owns and maintains the park. Meet them and tell them what you want to do. They may have a budget that can help you. In our case the park was owned and maintained by the Borough council. I made sure I met with the actual council as well as the contractors who look after the park. This was important as contractors, generally, can not make decisions on funding. Our local borough had preferred suppliers we pretty much had to use (the expensive ones) and the equipment had to be installed by their contractors. This made it more expensive but they were able to advise on bits of equipment. Some authorities have Play co-ordinators or Neighbourhood units that could help you develop your plans, regardless of who owns the park. If the park is owned by the council push hard to get some funds from them, involve your local Councillor, ward or parish councils and do not take what they tell you at face value. Ask them what budget they have for replacing and removing equipment, can you influence how this happens? It is much harder to obtain grant funding If councils own the site, so they should be sympathetic. If there really is no budget, consider a lease agreement to local parish council or equivalent.
Step 3 – Think about developing your park in phases. People think about age groups and the type of play they want to encourage – climbing, role play, exploring, fitness, natural play.
Step 4 – Talk to your local schools, toddler group, can they set up a project to survey children, parents and the wider community? What kind of development would they like to see? What age group is poorly catered for? Do involve older children too.
Step 5 – Embrace Social Media – we set up a facebook page. This helped us to connect to local residents who helped the fundraising effort. Such as the wedding photographer who took some amazing photos to support a grant application. A local Mum made a film. The parish clerk was brilliant help with grant applications.
Step 6 – Contact some suppliers tell them your plans and ask them to come on a site visit. Play equipment in a public space is commercial equipment and is governed by lots of rules to make sure it is all safe. It is expensive maybe £600 for a single swing, at least £5,000 for a climbing frame. The installation and safety matting generally doubles the price. Contractors may be able to suggest a play scheme. They may even sketch it up for you. At the very least they can provide big A3 print outs of suggested equipment for kids to look at/ vote on. Try and negotiate on price if you can.
Step 7 – Once you know what you want you need to consider your fundraising mix. In our case, the majority of funds came from grants but generally grant makers like to match money already raised. I’d recommend some community fundraising (we held a coffee morning at the Eco Barn, but also piggy backed onto existing village activities such as a quiz night and some 'fun casino' nights. Our local pub and car park owner also gave a generous donation as well as a local manufacturing business, local Councillor and our own business). This community effort raised around £3000, which was generously matched by our local parish council. We then approached a number of grant makers for a contribution to the purchase and installation of specific bits of equipment.
Step 8 – Identify grants and complete applications. Try and apply for grants as the local body that owns the play area. We applied as a committee of the parish council for grants, this helped with the bureaucracy and issues like VAT. One grant we could not apply for, as we didn’t own the site, was the Big Lottery Fund Awards for All Grant, I am told this is a very easy grant to obtain, if your project is good and supported by the community. You may also find that you have a county wide community foundation, which list local funds you can approach. Norfolk also has it’s own Playing Field Association which also gave us a generous grant. Tesco’s Bags of help was a brilliant grant that the whole community could get behind voting. Whilst Aviva’s community fund was loads of work and in retrospect we didn’t have a chance.
Step 9 – consider maintenance and insurance. You need to insure and budget for maintaining new equipment. Most equipment should be under warranty for at least 10 years.