Art in the Park 2022

‘Art in the Park’ started in 2021, Rowntree Park’s Centenary year. Artists created a piece of work inspired by a decade/art movement of the last 100 years and Rowntree Park. The work was displayed in the park and has been admired by many. We are launching ‘Art in the Park’ 2022 and would love people to get involved! The information below is for those interested in finding out more…

Theme for 2022 – ‘Wild’
This is a loose theme to link with the work we are doing to develop a wildlife area in Rowntree Park.  In the wildlife area we have/will have a new pond, bog garden, orchard, wildflowers, a rockery to encourage mammals, we will be daming the beck to encourage more animals there. In other areas of the park we have a pollinator garden, we aim to plant more native plants, and have a range of birds and waterfowl.It would be good if the art can in some ways incorporate something to do with the ‘wild’ park (animals, insects, amphibians, flora, fauna) but also welcome things that show iconic Rowntree Park imagery too (doesn’t have to be both but can!)   This is a very loose theme, so if you do have ideas – just ask.

What art forms can be submitted?

In 2021, all art had to be submitted digitally  so we could have it printed onto A2 composite boards that were attached to the railings in the centre of the park. 

As this is a project run by a volunteer, this was the simplest and most effective way to get art up in the park.  A couple of artists took photographs of their art and this is what was printed.  However, that is not to say other art forms can’t be considered. If you have suggestions and can work out how to display your art outside (and fix it in a secure manner) then it could be possible.  As this is a public park, it is possible things can get damaged so you need to be aware of this. The artwork is displayed outside.

All digital submissions should be JPEG. Ideally minimum of 3000 pixels along the long edge. Your image will be put onto a board with a white border with the name of the piece, your name and also a website/social media handle. 

Who can submit

You can be an artist, or an enthusiast, of any age.  However, we reserve the right to choose the art work we will display. There is no guarantee all work submitted will be used. We will let you know if your artwork is to be displayed.

Deadline

It would be good to get the art up for the summer. The deadline for submissions is June 26th 2022. The work would go to print the following week (Mon 27th) and be up by mid July. Please feel free to submit work before the deadline. 

What next:

Please complete this form to register interest and fill any info you have at this time.

Please note:

Art in the Park is run by a volunteer who also manages a lot of the other projects, activities and events in the park.  Time is limited so please be patient with replies to emails. If you do have suggestions, technical knowledge or want to help (or run the whole thing) – get in touch!

Extra-  can you help?

We have sold tote bags for the last 3 years which have helped raise funds for our work in maintaining and improving the park.  We’d like to have a new design.  If you are interested in helping create a design for the bags, we’d love to hear from you. Ideally it needs to be something iconic, simple and can be printed in one colour (as more colour means more costly!) If you have some ideas or would like to be involved, contact abigail at hello@rowntreepark.org.uk

Winter Trees in Rowntree Park

Conifer appreciation!

When most trees lose their leaves in winter, conifers really stand out. We have a range of conifers in Rowntree Park that stay green all year (and also some other trees such as Holly). Because the green is easy to spot in winter months, why not use our handy identification sheet to spot the conifers in the park.

This identification sheet was created by our charity manager, abigail, who also creates nature resources for families in her spare time. Download to your phone or print at home and take it out and about with you when next in Rowntree Park. Adds a twist to a walk and is great fun for all ages!

We love to see your photos of tress, plants, wildlife and anything beautiful you spot in the park – please do share! You can email us at hello@rowntreepark.org.uk or tag us on social media.

Squirrel wars!

Image by Ellie at NutkinAvenue Illustrations (Friends of Rowntree Park volunteer and squirrel fan!)

Friend or fiend?

We are very fortunate that our park is alive with wildlife, there’s a variety of bird life in the water and woodland. We like to help our feathered friends when the weather gets a bit chillier by putting up a few feeding stations, and this year is no exception. However, the presence of our bird feeders often gets unwanted attention from certain furry friends…

The Park is the perfect squirrel playground, and our rodent residents are quite unphased by humans! They join people for their picnics (invited or otherwise!) and show off with their charmingly cute antics. But in reality these playful, plump critters are shrewd scavengers…

Eating EVERYTHING they find!

So far this Autumn not only have the Rowntree Park squirrel squad been pinching the bird food, but they’ve actually been eating the bird feeders too! We’ve had to have our wits about us and launch counter attacks to preserve the bird food to take us through the Winter. Squirrel proof bird feeding stations can be expensive, so we’ve gone with a DIY approach for now and it’s a really easy and economical way to protect your feeders. 

Stop the squirrels!

It’s a hack that is quite common on the internet in the eternal squirrel wars. Simply drill a hole in an old mixing bowl and allow that to sit over the top of the bird feeder. It creates a protective umbrella allowing access for the birds underneath. Similar ideas use a large pop bottle that encase the bird feeder, but leaves a gap for the birds to still access food at the bottom. We’ve tried to place our hanging feeding stations away from over hanging branches to avoid sneaky sideways squirrel raids and we have also added grease to the poles of the bird stations that are on stakes in the ground. 

However, with all this said, we know that as soon as squirrel bellies begin to rumble the sneaky squirrels will be scheduling a strategy convention to devise new tactics to get their paws on that bird food.

If you have any top tips or want to help create squirrel proof bird feeding stations, we’d love to hear from you!

Drop us a line at hello@rowntreepark.org.uk and we will put you in touch with Vikki.

Children’s Christmas Craft Packs 2021

Have yourselves some festive fun with our Christmas craft packs for children. A perfect pack for you to use in a lovely ‘crafternoon’ together. A fun family activity and festive to boot!



The pack includes:
A wooden lantern – build and decorate (LED candle included)
2 Wooden 3D hanging stars to decorate
2 wood slices – 1 to decorate as a hanging decoration and the other pre drilled to weave a Christmas star.
Some pine cones, orange slices, cinnamon sticks and twine to create your own natural hanging decorations.


Profits from the packs go to friends of Rowntree Park. The packs have been put together for us by Catkin & Co and are sold through their online shop for just £15. The packs can be collected from the park on the following dates or picked up from an address near the park. It is also possible to select postage and packaging at checkout if preferred.

Dates to collect packs from the park:
Saturday 27th of November 10-12pm
Saturday 4th December 10-12pm

There are only a limited number of packs available. The packs we created sold well last year.

Calendar 2022 – Rowntree Park

We are excited to share with you our calendar for 2022. Featuring a range of designs from ‘Art in the Park’ – this was a project that challenged local artists to create an image of Rowntree Park influenced by an art style or decade of the last 100 to celebrate Rowntree Park’s centenary year.

This A4 calendar will look stylish in your home or make a fantastic gift for others this Christmas. A perfect gift for lovers of Rowntree park that also raises funds for the Friends of Rowntree park at the same time.

Calendars are only £12 and can be bought using the link below. Please note that the price reflects printing costs (we can’t do in bulk as a small charity) and also aims to raise some funds for the charity. We really appreciate your support. Please read….

If local, you can collect your calendar from a house near the park (we will email you details) or you can opt to add postage and packaging. see link below:


For more on our Children’s Christmas Craft Kits for sale, see here.

We also have other merchandise that can also be bought and collected on the same dates:
– A4 Limited Edition Prints
– A5 Notecards
– Children’s Christmas Craft Packs – see here to buy

Gift Membership can be bought online. If you buy a gift membership you get a link to send to the recipient to activate their account. You can also purchase gift membership with a greeting card (this card would need to be collected from a house near the park).

The following items can also be bought and collected from the stall on the dates and times above:

Rowntree Park Cotton Tote Bag£3Buy
Rowntree Park Insulated Travel Mug£3Buy

Thank you to all the artists who have been involved in the ‘Art in the Park’ project, and to Elliot Harrison who put together the calendar for us.

Artists include:
Ellie Lewis – Instagram @nutkinavenue_illustrations/
Leon François Dumont – www.LFDumont.art

Adele Karmazyn – www.adelekarmazyn.com
Helen J Atkinson- helenjatkinson.co.uk
Guy Ruston -Instagram @guyrustondesign
Emma Frost- emma-frost.co.uk
Kelly Lewis – Instagram: @hairylemonsdesign
Lucie Ware- www.lucieware.org
Elliot Harrison – Instagram.com/York.360
Gillian Dodsworth – https://www.facebook.com/Art-by-Gillian-Dodsworth
Heather Dawes
Elaine Potter 
Mandi Grant – mandasgrant@yahoo.co.uk
John G Uttley
Tyria Fritian-Franks 




Members Survey Autumn 2021

The FRP have just over 800 members. Around 240 completed the survey. The age range of respondents wasn’t collected but from the data we do have – the majority (around 65%) of members are over 50. However we cannot comment on the age range who completed the survey as age wasn’t asked on this occasion. 
Also we know that only 53% of our members are from the YO23 area (located near the park), we have members from across the city and further afield.
We do not have other data at present that may be useful in our analysis and will aim to collect such data in the future, if people are willing to share.

Q-  I am aware of what the aims of the Friends of Rowntree Park are and what comes under their remit and what is the council’s responsibility

You can find out more here

Q – I’m aware of the areas that the FRP garden

You can find out more here

Q- I have been a FRP member for…

Q-  I volunteer, or have volunteered, with FRP

If you’d like to register interest in volunteering, you can do so here

Q- Which of the following areas of the FRP work do you see as the most important? – (people prioritised and could pick more than one)

Answers ordered:

Gardening 80%
Communicating what is happening in Rowntree Park 80%
Communicating with CYC on maintenance issues75%
Development of new wildlife areas70%
Litter63%
MHWB programmes63%
Goose Maintenance63%
Children’s events/education60%
Organising events in the park by outside providers60%
Trying to get funding for the lodge to become a community building 55%
Duck food 48%
Projects in the park like Words from a bench/art45%
Adults events 40%
Trails around the park (such as Tree trails)40%
Adding new physical features (railings, benches etc)31%
Bird feeding 22%

*Please note that gardening, litter, new equipment/facilities as well as goose maintenance to some extent(H&S in the park) all used to be CYC responsibilities but budget cuts have affected these areas.

Q- Please use this space to explain what area of the FRP work you see as the most important one(s) in your view:

Many said it’s hard to pick as all are so important and some comments stated they were impressed with what we manage to do with such small capacity/funding. Not all feedback is below, but these comments highlight main areas:

  • Gardening
  • Litter
  • Geese (we lack volunteers!)
  • Getting CYC to do its job
  • Children’s events and educating for the future regarding nature/conservation
  • Wildlife developments
  • Community events and projects – creating community feel

Q – If the FRP got more volunteers and people to lead on new areas (and funding) – what sorts of things would you like to see happening in Rowntree Park that the FRP could help facilitate?

These views are useful and some are possible if more volunteers come on board and people want to lead projects. Please see additional notes for the ones in italics
ASB patrols
More kids events and community events
Pond clearing
Talks
More theatre/music
‘How to’ garden sessions
More MHWB
Wildlife areas and studies of wildlife in the park
More for older primary aged kids and teens
Play equipment
Girl skate sessions
Skate park to be less intimidating picnic tables for older kids and also things to encourage older girls
Bigger events like arts markets and events with info stalls
Pond monitors selling duck food/more focus on education of not feeding geese
Bring back bowling green
Propagating and selling plants (we are actually trying to do this!)
Cascade (CYC area at present)
Model boats regattas
Outdoor shelters for events/music/renovate pavilion
Sheltered seating
Primary school links (we have some but would love to have time to develop)
Disabled access in skate park/play parks (toilet at events)
FS for disabled children
Events to help fund FRP (we do but welcome more!)
Story telling
Developing disused buildings in the park
More on heritage of the park
Rose garden improvements
Women only sessions
Opportunities for teens to play music on the stage
Vegetable patch
FRP gardeners to care for more areas (as CYC areas look bad) – no capacity to do so

Please see here for more info on areas in italics.

Q-  Newsletter – thoughts?

The majority like it as it is with the detail and want it monthly. However some said less on events other said more! Some said less pictures some said more – so balances out! Also volunteer profiles suggested.

Suggestions included linking to elsewhere with photos or more info (like history of park) so people interested can look. However this involves time to get additional stuff on the website – need volunteers for this! All takes time.Its a good idea but currently we lack the capacity.

Q – Do you use any of the following to keep up to date with what the Friends of Rowntree Park are doing and what is happening in the park?

Most see posters in the park and cafe and also see via FB. Twitter, instagram and other websites/newsletters less so.

Additional information:

There is still some confusion about groups linked to Rowntree Park. The cafe and Tennis Club are separate from the Friends of Rowntree Park. Please see here for more info on the various groups linked to the park, FRP remit and CYC responsibilities.

Other area’s people asked about include:

-Bowling Greens
Outdoor Shelters/events spaces
Disused buildings

Please see here for more information on the above and additional points raised by the survey.

Signs of Autumn Hunt

Why not head out looking for the signs of Autumn in Rowntree Park? Catkin & Co in conjunction with the Young Friends of Rowntree park have produced this FREE hunt sheet that you can download here. We have also have some copies we left at the cafe for you to pick up.

Catkin & Co create nature based kits and resources for to help nurture a love of nature in children. Items ordered can be posted or you can pick them up from right next to the park (where Catkin & co are based).

Catkin & Co have also produced some special Potions Kits specifically for the Friends of Rowntree Park to help raise some money for our charity. You can see the kits here

The Friends of Rowntree park run a number fo activities and sessions to help engage children with nature. These include regular Forest Schools, the Very Young Friends meet ups as well as ‘one off’ special events through the year based on topics such as Autumn Art, halloween, natural Christmas Crafting, Woodland Fairy Folk days and much more!

Girls and public parks – how you can make a difference?

Following on from my article ‘The right to equal play’ that focuses on girls and public parks, I wanted to share with you some information that may be of interest to anyone else who feels inspired to start looking at how they can make a difference to older girls in their own park but doesn’t know where to start, or what they could do.

Girls and public parks

A brief bit of background – the right to equal play

You can read my original article here about why I thought it was important to start researching older girls’ views on my local park, Rowntree Park in York. And why it’s important that councils, planners, designers and the like need to get the views of older girls when planning or adding to parks (also check out Make Space for Girls).

A brief summary ….council’s choice of facilities for older children tends to be skateparks, MUGAs, and BMX tracks which are often planned with the ‘default male citizen’ in mind. They become dominated by males. We need to raise awareness that councils should be getting the views of older girls when planning new parks or additional features. Research shows that after the age of 8 girls tend to use public parks less, and that girls are 10 times more likely to feel insecure in such places. This is partly because of social norms, but also because parks are not designed or equipped to encourage girls to use parks.  Therefore if we look at what changes we could make to the design of parks, or the facilities on offer, then it is a step toward encouraging more equal use of public parks.  There is of course a lot more to it than just facilities, but it is the facilities we can practically focus on whilst at the same time continuing to push for societal changes.

Raising awareness amongst councillors and designers that the views of girls should be taken into consideration when planning or redesigning parks is key. However, how do you do this? How can you go about making a difference?  There is no one way, but below I share with you how I’m approaching things and any advice I can share from what I know. I’m no expert, but it’s a journey that may be useful to others thinking about setting out and asking themselves ‘what can I do?’.

What can you do?

This depends on your starting point. If you are part of the council then this is less of a challenge to start making a difference. However if you are just an interested party then there are various ways you could go about seeing if change can happen. 

Friends of Parks –   I’m a volunteer with a ‘Friends of Park’ group and therefore over the last couple of years I have found out more about what the council does and doesn’t do in our park and what us as volunteers can do.  If you want changes in a local park, find out if there is a ‘Friends of Park’ group and drop them a line. Don’t expect them to know the answers, many are just small groups of people but they’d probably welcome someone passionate to get involved in a project like this and would support you where they can. For example, Friends groups have links to the council and know who to chat with.

My own ‘Friends of Park’ group has grown over the last few years and two years ago we became a charity. Even before this time we’d started to look at what funding was out there to improve our park – we’ve had funding for gardening projects, mental health and wellbeing sessions and much more. As part of this friends group, I will be looking to seek funding via grants and/or business sponsorship for some practical changes as a result of the feedback from older girls. Whether a not for profit group or charity, Friends groups will be able to access some funding you may not be able to as an individual.

Local councillors – find out who your ward councillors are and ask for advice and support into looking into this area. They may have people they can connect you with and/or can find out information for you. They may want to get involved themselves. However, don’t expect them to lead it all as they have many causes to represent.

Contact your council park department– if you do this, do it in a supportive way!  Point out this issues and come up with solutions or ideas on how the council could tackle and look into this.  It’s likely this isn’t an issue they even thought of, so if the information is presented well then you’ll get cogs turning.

What have I done so far?

Online Survey

As a member of a ‘Friends of Park’ group I set up an online survey to get the views of girls aged 10-17.  Using Google forms this is simple and straightforward. This survey was anonymous but emails could be left if they wanted to be involved at a future date.  The survey had to be concise and then the aim is to follow up on more specific areas (such as our skatepark). We used a mix of quantitative and qualitative approaches in the questionnaire. If you have the help of a professional researcher with a clear methodological approach, even better. However, if not you can see the kind of things we asked in our survey here – we mixed checkboxes with scales and also areas to expand on answers. In addition, the survey will be used alongside focus groups and case studies. The research would not be representative of all girls in the UK or even our city, but will give us a good idea on girls in our area who use our park.

How to get the online survey out there

Our Friends group has over 800 households as members so we shared the survey via our monthly newsletter, I also shared via social media. I also contacted local secondary schools and asked them to include in their weekly newsletter to parents – you can find school office emails on the school’s websites easily.  I wrote the paragraph of information and asked them to include, so all they had to do was cut and paste to the newsletter. The easier you make things, the more likely people will share them I have found. An ideal would be actually a local school(s) who want to get on board with the project and actually via their PSCHE lesson, or similar, actually get the girls to do the survey and even better run a session. It really depends if a local school is inspired by the project – great chance for their pupils to make a difference.

I also went on the local radio to talk about this. On this occasion they contacted me after being tagged on social media. Previously I have written press releases to get coverage for other park issues and these are often picked up on. Again, no expert on press releases, but I’ll share one that I’m writing when able. The top take away tip is- make it easy for people. Write things for them and they’ll share!

Workshops and Focus Groups

I set up a workshop to encourage older girls to come and share their views on the park. It’s pretty hard to get people involved in this sort of session just by opting in to be fair. I used social media and posters in the park. It was more parents’ interest that was galvanised, and that meant this focus group was mainly aged 10-13.   As the workshop was small and focused around certain ages the next step is working out how to engage others. I’m trying to reach out to local schools and teachers to see if they’d be willing to run brief sessions using the resources I created. Also I’ll be contacting local clubs and groups, all at the same time I’m using social media to try and raise awareness.  It all takes time, and I have to fit this between my full time job and family.

In our skatepark there are some 20-30 year old women who mainly roller skate, many started in lockdown. I know they are role models to some younger girls who feel safer when they are in the skatepark.  Therefore I’ve reached out to them via Instagram to explain more about what I’m trying to and asking if they have ideas/suggestions and want to get involved – the response has been positive, so fingers crossed!  It may also be that I just set up a stall one afternoon in the park and suggest people pop by and share views! I’m going to keep thinking and welcome suggestions.

Where next?

One we have more data then it’s working out what to do with it.  By raising awareness of this cause, I’m hoping girls will get involved in the whole process. That is discussing the summary of feedback and suggesting what changes we could make. From the focus group we’ve already had some suggestions and the survey indicated what features girls want to see in parks.  I’ll aim to compile some of this and see what others think and if they agree. 

Designing parks, re designing or simple additions and changes

In some places, such research may help with new designs of parks or skateparks, but in our park, there will be no major  redesign of the public space. Our council struggles to fund our park as it is – there is no staff based in our large park or any planting that takes place, just basic maintenance. Any new features added over the last few years and events and activities that run are organised by the Friends of Rowntree Park.  Places where new parks or redesigned parks that involve the view of girls are fantastic and inspirational, but for us it’s aiming for some small changes that we feel could still make a difference.

In a way, as a ‘normal’ person – not in the council or with massive funders easy to access- small changes are achievable.  So far, feedback shows that our girls want the following in the park:  Equipment like swings, especially larger swings like basket or tyres, and climbing frames but away from the play park aimed for small children. They also want round picnic benches nearby.  They want this area to be in an open area, not hidden away, but somewhere they feel they can hang, relax, exercise and chat without feeling they are using equipment aimed at smaller children and feeling ‘guilty’ when they are on it. 

So we can set about researching the costs of such equipment and link in with the council and get their views and feedback – they will be in the ones hopefully fitting it and will need to agree to overall maintenance. I know that our council prefers low maintenance due to costs (roundabouts tend to need repairs often, so they’d be out for example)  and we also need to think carefully as we are a park that floods most winters, so the equipment choices need to take this into account. Also as we are a park with no staff based there, we take this into consideration too. Once we have an idea of equipment and prices and the council in general agreement regarding fitting (we may need to pay for this), then we will set about finding out what funding may be out there. It would be great if designer could offer up options that we’ve not even considered, there is so much potential for redesigning facilities and parks.

Skateparks – how can they be made to be more ‘girl friendly’ and inclusive?

With our skatepark I’m still doing some more research into views but so far there are some suggestions of things we could do. Our skate park is quite small and although outdoors it is in an enclosed wire cage.  It was noted only one gate to it was open, so already we have made sure the council open both gates daily – the knowledge there are two exits make the skatepark feel less intimidating feedback has stated. 

We also have hedges around the cage that blocks the view into the rest of the park, and the view into the skate park. We are considering getting these taken back so the space is opened up. Girls have commented on feeling intimidated as the space is separate and also there are places where older boys drinking have been congregating. If we can get the ‘cage’ taken down then we win a metre width of grassy bank. It’s not much but may be space for some benches. Again, a complaint of our skatepark is that people congregate at the top of the ramps as there is nowhere else to sit and that’s intimidating for others to go up and also they feel they are constantly watched.  Getting some extra space a the side and benches may help avoid this.

Basically, what I’m saying is that small changes will hopefully make a difference to our skate park but we wouldn’t have known such things without getting the views of local girls. We are also looking into girl only skate sessions and ways to involve both male and female skaters who already use the skate park – helping create community. It’s also felt that some girls would feel less intimidated using the space if they’d mastered some basic skills -they’d feel more confident using the space. As it stands, they feel like some of the skilled older boys/men (15-30 approx) dominate and run them off areas when they try to learn, and this stops them wanting to use the space. More to be done and still thinking…

Finding funding

There are lots of smaller grants out there and currently many mention social isolation and mental health and wellbeing.  I feel that girls and public park improvements fit here well. There is also sports funding, as there is a good link with physical and mental health. There will be others too, local ward funding may be worth investigating.  Through piecemeal funding I think we could start to get some equipment. It may be that we even look at business sponsors for equipment or round benches.

Again, being linked to a ‘Friends of Park’ group I’ve got some experience of writing funding applications. However if you don’t, it’s likely that in your area there are groups and organisations who can support this. In York, we have the CVS who offer workshops and guidance and this has helped us in the past. You may be able to get a professional bid writer on board as a volunteer – you don’t know until you ask!

Involving girls through out

My ideal is to involve the older girls throughout. From their initial thoughts and suggestions, to choosing equipment and locations, to helping raise awareness and helping find funding. By supporting them they will be more equipped in the future to know they can create change.

How can local people help?

I have had a few people get in touch and ask how they can help and also received some great messages of support.  So far I have suggested things like looking into what funding/grants are out there, help designing research, help with communications/press releases to raise awareness  and the like. I’ve also had some chats with people interested in running some girls skills skate sessions. I love how the project is evolving but I do need help and welcome it.

Summary

I’d love to hear from anyone else looking into a similar area and exchanging ideas and supporting one another.  Make Space for Girls has been a great source of inspiration and support.

Further information

I will aim to add more information as and when able on the following:

  • Details of the focus group session
  • Information on our main findings from the survey and focus group
  • Press release example
  • Ideas on grants and funding

Rowntree Park is a large memorial park in York, around 20 minutes walk from the city centre. It includes lakes, play parks, a skate park a basketball court, woodland areas and a ampitheatre, amongst other features. There is also a cafe and tennis courts but these are maintained by other groups than the Friends or the council.

Abigail Gaines – October 2021

Girls and Public Parks – the right to equal play.

Inspired by the newly formed charity – Make Space for Girls – we want to look at older girls views of Rowntree Park and find out how it is used, or perhaps not used. You can read more about the background to this project below which highlights research and findings of studies in the UK and elsewhere. However, we see it as important not to enter into any research with preconceived views and want to be directed by local girls.

We have been running an online survey and some in-person workshops. We would love to hear from local girls (and boys) who’d like to be involved and help drive the project (if any action is seen as needed following findings). Also schools and other organisations linked to young people – we’d love you to get involved. Get in contact hello@rowntreepark.org.uk

Read on…

The right to equal play – Girls and public parks

Parks and open spaces are so important for all our physical and mental health. Although many always knew this, the COVID pandemic has perhaps highlighted just exactly how important access to green space is to so many. Therefore when you realise public park facilities aimed at older children are rarely used by half of the population (girls), then there should be no doubt that there is something not quite right here.

If you were to ask most councils what play and park equipment they provide for older children, the answers tend to be skateparks, BMX tracks, football pitches and mugas.  In truth there aren’t many studies of how public parks and open spaces are used by older children, but what there is highlights that boys tend to dominate sports orientated facilities in public playgrounds (1).

Some councils may state that these facilities are ‘gender neutral’ – however how can this be the case when the boy/girl balance is split like this?  When local councils are deciding how to spend money on parks and similar outdoor leisure facilities they must comply with the Public Sector Equality Duty (2). As it stands, most councils are not providing equal access to leisure, sports, and recreation facilities if the facilities are used predominantly by one sex. By not considering the views of females in their planning, parks, and open space facilities are often planned and built for the ‘default male’ citizen. Girls have a right to play and their needs should be met too.

At the start of 2021, I came across the newly formed charity – ‘Make Space for Girls’ whose primary aim is campaigning for public spaces designed with girls in mind. My first thoughts were ‘horrah’! After all, this was an issue I had been thinking about, but they were actually starting to do something by raising awareness of this inequality. I watched and read with interest and started to think about the practicalities of ‘what can I do?’ With a background in leadership roles in secondary schools and specialising in gender sociology, to getting involved in my local park by joining the ‘Friends of Rowntree Park’ a couple of years back I suppose I realised I need to be more than just an observer of the campaign but actually start to help action some change in my local park.  The move from interest to the need for action has been heightened in the last few months by the fact my own daughter has just turned 11 years old.   Change needs to happen.  So I started talking to others. A couple of us from the Friends of Rowntree Park want to take this further. We want to find out more about the views of girls about the park and help them get involved in possibly making some real change happen.  We’d love more people to get involved – as a community we could really make a difference to some young lives.

Already there may be questions coming to your mind, but stick with this and read on! 

“My daughter uses the skate park!”

There are girls who use skate parks. There are also some great female role models in sports like BMX and Skateboarding that challenge the stereotypes. But the question is – why is this such a small percentage? It’s this that we need to seek to readdress. We should look at those that do but also those that don’t – find out more about why and why not, and use this knowledge to help make changes.

“Separate facilities for girls is wrong!”

It may not be that separate facilities in parks are needed for girls. We don’t really know at this stage. But as it stands the facilities are separate already if around half of the teen population aren’t using them. The aim is to get girls equally using parks – that may be looking at the hidden barriers that stop them using facilities such as skateparks and seeking to remedy this and improve things to increase participation. It may be that some additional equipment/areas are more suited to uses by some girls (and boys). It’s not about segregation, it’s about taking in the views of both boys and girls in the planning and design of parks. Any changes that take place will benefit a range of park users including boys, and those who do not identify with a specific gender.

I don’t think we should use the term girls and boys!”

Under the Gender Equality Act 2021, sex is a protected characteristic, not gender. Therefore this is what councils have to adhere to – making sure parks and open spaces provide equality for both sexes.

Then there is the issue of gender identity.  Again this isn’t being dismissed or sidelined BUT at this stage we are looking at the statistics that show boys dominate the facilities in parks provided for older children. There are obviously many other issues – race, culture, disability – all issues that should be explored to make parks and open spaces accessible to all. Indeed how such things affect girls’ usage of parks should be explored too (3).  At this stage, our focus is on what we can do to make our park more welcoming to older girls. There could be so much ‘whataboutery’- but there is a real inequality here in terms of provision for girls and this is what we are focusing on at present.   We’d love others to get involved to represent other groups and make changes too.  What we are trying to do,  and how it’s approached,  may not be perfect, we may get things wrong. But don’t criticise, help instead!  Let’s facilitate change. We could spend all day discussing the ‘buts’ and concerns around offending people and groups, but we are trying to make changes. If we aren’t doing things right, help us, guide us, and get involved!

“Surely providing a skate park can’t be seen as discrimination?”

Interesting one this. Most studies on gender issues in parks are focused on skate parks. Skateboarding seems to be an overwhelmingly male pursuit.  I’ve just finished reading ‘Invisible Women’ by Caroline Perez. A similar question was raised by a town official in a town in Sweden who after one official had stated that at least ‘snow clearing was something the gender people’ could not interfere in.  However this led them to look into this and they found that there were issues! They found that when snow fell it was the roads that were cleared first. This mainly benefited male workers who travelled by car to the workplace. It was realised that the policy disadvantaged many women who actually were more likely to walk or use public transport.  They found men’s travel patterns were pretty simple – to and from work, whereas women’s were more complex  and included multiple journeys that covered unpaid work such as childcare drop offs, visiting elderly relatives, supermarket visits etc – all mainly via footpaths. The women were making multiple journeys yet their needs were not considered!  The policy hadn’t intended to discriminate, but by default by not considering the views and travel of women it had (4).

The same goes for skateparks.  A British study based in Nottingham stated 90% of skatepark users are male, Australian studies point to around 95% of skatepark users being male (5). More recent 2019 study in the US shows that it was 76.1% (6). This may reflect positive change is happening but the inequality is still there. Studies point to the fact some female skaters have voiced that they pick times to visit the skatepark when they know large crowds of males won’t be around. In fact, they have stated on their own that some individual males seem to be supportive, but when boys are in groups, the girls feel intimidated. It’s actually argued that the fact skate parks can attract people from out of the local area makes this even more intimidating to girls. So what can you do? Hold girl-only skate sessions? Maybe, but is the message to girls that they can only use a park if they use it the way boys do? Sport England’s State ‘don’t expect women to change to fit sport and exercise’. Don’t try to fix the girls, fix the facilities. (7)

So, why aren’t some girls using these public spaces? 

In the younger age groups, the use of parks seems to be fairly equal, especially when parents are around. But it’s when children start to use facilities alone or become more aware of the world and what’s happening around them that girls tend to use parks (or areas of them) less. 

As parents of young girls, we tell them they can do what they want, be who they want to be- after all, gender is a social construct. My own husband avidly took our young daughter to the skate park, bike tracks and rock climbing.  No barriers.  But as our daughter got older we saw her reluctance to participate in sport in the public sphere increasing. 

Research has shown that from the age of 8 there are less girls using public parks. Also that girls were 10 times more likely to feel insecure in these places. This is partly because of social norms, but also because parks are not designed or equipped to cater for girls (8).

Studies of play show how boys tend to dominate the space after this age and some girls withdraw and are less active when boys are present.  A number of reasons for this have been suggested such as boys dominating the space with games, that girls experience dismissive behaviour or taunting.   Girls are often found at the sides, marginalised.  Then there is the issue of safety. A fairly recent Girlguiding study in showed that over 40% of girls aged between 11 and 21 feel unsafe when they go outside, and a third are worried to do things outside on their own (9). It’s not just girls who feel the spaces are unsafe, parents are also concerned about girls going to such public spaces alone. Basically, just when girls should be developing independence, they find themselves unwelcome in public parks as there are no facilities geared to them and they may not feel safe. However that is not just to say girls feeling safe is just about facilities – of course there is more to this such as educating males.

There are numerous sociological studies that focus on education and show how often boys can dominate the space not just in the classroom but also in the playground. Thompson makes the point that ‘territorialisation’ occurs when people think of a space belonging to a certain group (10). It may not just be the users themselves, but others as well. This can perhaps be seen in skateparks where boys and young adults spend time practicing their skills and hanging with friends. It may not be the boys themselves who are working to keep out other users, but more that the perception is that the skatepark is mainly used by males. ‘Territorialism’ teaches boys to see the public space as theirs and shows girls their right to access certain public spaces is dependent on boys allowing this. This is reinforced when leisure facilities used mainly by boys continue to be built (11).

The effects on health

The lack of park facilities for girls, and the barriers excluding them from current provision do not just raise issues about equality and public space but also the effects on physical, and mental health. From age 10, activity levels drop significantly in girls, until by 13-15, only 8% of girls are meeting activity guidelines(12). We all know that regular exercise helps physical health but also positively impacts mental health.  The sports world have led the way with interventions to get women into sport, but we also need measures to encourage girls to be more active in public spaces.

“Maybe we should help the girls change?”

Are girls excluding themselves by choosing not to use facilities in parks?  Some may assert we need to fix the girls, not the facilities. I’d disagree. In the book ‘Invisible Women’ Perez noted that Google realised their employees who were women were less likely to go for promotion and wanted to fix this. But the way they did it was wrong. They got senior women to host workshops to ‘encourage women to nominate themselves’ – basically to be more like men. But why should it be accepted that male traits in the business place are the right ones and women should emulate these? Women’s different skills were overlooked, perhaps it was men’s rate of putting themselves forward for promotion and overestimating abilities were too high but Google didn’t hold workshops to fix this (13).

There is a lot to fix in society. Gender socialisation starts from birth, and although there have been advancements in the last 20 or so years there is much still ingrained and even the most gender-neutral intended family will struggle to keep their child from outside influences on their child.  Studies from the 1970s to the present day have shown how teenage girls retreat to the private sphere, often bedrooms, where they feel safe (14). When teaching Sociology to 16-18 year girls I had some interesting discussions with them. Until being asked questions regarding gender identity and how it’s influenced their life so far they hadn’t even stopped to think about it. It hadn’t crossed their mind that gender had affected and shaped their lives. Many of them reflected on their school subject choices (mainly languages, humanities and care based subjects), the fact they’d stopped playing competitive sport  around age 12, stopped putting their hand up in class due to fear ‘lads banter’ and ridicule, and why they now didn’t walk past building sites unaccompanied. Opening up the discussions with one another, I saw their realisation on how their life had been shaped subconsciously. I saw the shock and frustration on some of their faces, anger in others.

So yes, let’s keep working on societal change but at the same time let’s also fix the facilities – let’s find ways to encourage girls to use parks and open spaces. This may include design approaches that haven’t yet been thought of yet. In Vienna, park designers created spaces for girls, and the use of the park by girls increased. However, it has also been argued that creating resources girls wanted created spaces where interactions between boys and girls were less likely but didn’t address route issues of power dynamics between boys and girls.  More profound changes are also needed (15).   The ideal is not to segregate park users but find ways to have equal usage of spaces.  We can start by asking questions – how girls feel about the park, what they use and what they don’t and why, what they’d like to see in their park but also ideally look at design solutions that meet their needs – these may be things they cannot name yet as they don’t know they could exist!  There is research out there on girls’ use of parks, there is also a  lot more to be done. What it shows so far is that – girls often feel unsafe, they feel excluded by taunting, and tend to only use some spaces when groups of boys aren’t around (16).  In summary, girls are discriminated against by the design and use of most public parks.  They face a mix of direct and indirect discrimination; direct being males dominating the space and taunting girls, whereas indirect is more the local authorities may not be intending to discriminate –  but it IS discrimination if provision disadvantages one sex. 

So what is the solution?

So what can we do? ‘Make Space for Girls’ has some great resources compiling findings and actions taken by councils across the world and what has been learnt from the process of consulting with local girls and designers so far.  The first action should be to talk to young people. Find out their views including what the barriers are to using the park and discuss possible solutions.  There may not be a ‘one size fits all’ solution, but so far those who have done research and engaged girls have found the following solutions are often welcomed:

  • Better lighting
  • Wide pathways around the park
  • More seating areas, preferably with seats which face each other;
  • More swings or additional swings in areas away from young children’s play parks 
  • Wider entrances in and out of areas
  • Breaking down play areas into smaller spaces 
  • Good, safe toilet provision. 

It is also possible to design skateparks and MUGAs in such a way as to make them more accessible for girls. Again this often included not creating one large open space which a single group can dominate, but split into sections. Also  a variety of entrances to feel it’s easy to enter and exit were also seen as important (17).

Should girl-only events take place? I really don’t fully know my views on this one. In some ways, things such as ‘girl only’ skate sessions shouldn’t be needed, but maybe they are. Maybe a safe space for girls to develop confidence and skills in a safe space can only be beneficial. Is the message to girls that they can only use a park if they use it the way boys do? Maybe it’s about exploring a range of options and solutions. 

So where next? We need to find a way to engage local girls in discussions and find out their views.  This may or may not lead to change, at this stage we do not know.  To understand what is wanted and what may help is a start, but then there are more steps – including making change happen. That includes engaging other stakeholders including funders, the council, designers and more. Change may not have to be massive, even little changes can help and be the start. So either we can do nothing or at least try to do something.  I’d go for the latter – who is with me?

We fought for equal pay – now let’s fight for equal play!

Abigail Gaines.

Thank You to the research compilation by ‘Make Space for Girls –  which can be found here.

References:

  1. Floyd et al. 2011 and Bocarro et al. 2015.
  2. Cited from ‘Make Space for Girls’ – Summary of research findings December 2020: The Equality Act deals with most aspects of gender related discrimination through the lens of biological sex, rather than gender, and hence we are required to use the binary terms woman/man/girl boy when dealing with the legal framework, rather than the social and more fluid concept of gender.
  3.  Cited ‘‘Make Space for Girls’ – Summary of research findings December 2020’
  4.  ‘Invisible Women – Caroline Perez, Chapter 1.
  5. Skate parks as a context for adolescent development, Graham L. Bradley, Journal of Adolescent research, 2010.
  6.  Grandview Research 2019 (US and India)
  7.  Sports England – Go Where Women Are, Sport England Report, (Cited: ‘Make Space for Girls’ – Summary of research findings December 2020’)
  8. Stockholm University 2012/ White Arkitekter. Flickrum – Places for girls. 2018 https://whitearkitekter.com/project/places-for-girls/
  9.  Girls Attitudes Survey 2019, Girlguiding.
  10.  Thompson, 2005, P64
  11.  J Collins –  https://thegirlsplayproject.com
  12.  Puberty and Sport: An Invisible Stage, Women in Sport, (cited ‘Make Space for Girls’ – Summary of research findings December 2020’
  13. C Perez Invisible Women – P108-9
  14.  McRobbie & Garber, Bedroom culture. Also Lincoln, S. (2004) ‘Teenage Girls’ Bedroom Culture: Codes versus Zones.
  15.  Read more here – https://behavioralscientist.org/how-better-urban-planning-can-improve-gender-equality/
  16.  Girls only use when quiet – They don’t like girls hanging around there’: conflicts over recreational space in rural Northamptonshire, Faith Tucker and Hugh Matthews; Area, 2001
  17.  Make Space for Girls – Summary of Research findings Dec 2020