How To Start a Community Park Group
Dear Park Person,
By creating a community park group, you are showing that you care about parks and communities and want them to be better.
There have been community park groups doing great work in their parks for decades. Park People is helping to grow the number of groups and build a connected network of groups across all of Canada.
This guide will help you join the growing number of people helping improve their local park. It will show you how to get involved with your existing local park group and the step-by-step process you can follow to launch a new one.
You will find advice and inspiration from experienced park leaders across the country to help you become an effective voice and the spark for positive change in your park.
Start by signing up for the Park People Network
What is a Community Park Group?
- A community park group is made up of people like you that volunteer their time, services and funding to support and enhance their park
- Each community park group is different. Some are focused on more than just the park and are working on a number of neighbourhood matters
- Community park groups work together and partner with local politicians, organizations and businesses to achieve their work
- A community park group improves park conditions and helps create safe, attractive and enjoyable programs and park facilities
How do I join an existing community park group?
- Anyone can join a community park group. You can find an up to date list, contact information and links for many community park groups across Canada here.
- Many cities support park stewardship through Adopt-A-Park or Park Ambassador programs. If that’s the case, contact the Adopt-a-Park program coordinator in your city; he or she will be able to tell you if there is already a group in your park. If you’re not sure if you city has any stewardship programs, start by contacting 311.
How do I start a new community park group?
- Find your initial core group by chatting with your neighbours, dog walkers or other parents in the playground. Try and find others who share your interest in improving the park.
- Connect with your local councillor’s office and your local park staff to let them know you are starting a park group (and to learn about others who may be already involved in the park or interested in joining you!)
- Hold your first meeting with a group of core people. Promote your meeting to the broader community by setting up a Facebook page or simple website.
- Host your first public event in the park as a great way to attract new energy and broaden the interest if your new park group. A park clean up, nature walk, picnic, pumpkin parade or skating party is a good start.
“YOU are the spark! Share your dream for your park space with your closest friends in your neighbourhood and start the fire. Organize a community meeting with your councillor and advertise with flyers in your local paper. Collect emails at the meeting and ask each person on that list to invite one other neighbour to get involved. Set up your park group on Facebook and ask everyone to join. Now you are ablaze! Nothing is impossible!”
Is there a formal process for starting a community park group?
In most Canadian cities, there is no official process for starting or registering a community park group. In some cities, adopt-a-park or other city-run park stewardship programs provide a formal process for getting involved – call 311 to learn more. While you may not need permission to start a community park group, it is always important to build a good relationship with your local city councillor, park staff and residents.
What is the best organizational structure for our community park group?
There are no formal rules or guidelines on how a community park group should be organized and operated. Just as every park is unique, every park group is unique and you will have to find the structure that works best for the members of your group. Here is a list of tips to keep in mind:
- Be Inclusive: Parks are shared public spaces and community park groups need to include people with different interests and perspectives.
- Delegate: A Steering Committee is a great way to delegate. Try assigning one park initiative per person. For example, one person might want to organize a community garden, another might want to manage a clean up day, and another might want to take responsibility for outreach
- Engage Your Community: Present your ideas to your community at public meetings, gatherings, online or in print. Work transparently and document and share community response.
- Expect to Negotiate: There will be competing interests in any healthy park group. One person wants a naturalized area while another wants a soccer field. Advocate for something that you feel passionate about but expect to compromise.
- Get Together: Shared dinners, events and lively meetings are the lifeblood of community park groups. People need to see each other to provide meaningful support. Maintain momentum by getting together regularly.
- Share Responsibility: Consider a rotating chairperson at meetings. Invite Steering Committee members to update and add new content to your Facebook page, website or blog.
- Pursue the “Yes” Initiatives: Some park groups get bogged down in keeping things out of their park. Over time, rallying around the “No” can be tiring. For complex “Yes” initiatives such as a farmer’s market, your councillor may ask you to petition the neighbourhood. This can be a great way to assess whether or not there is majority support for an ambitious project.
Do we need to incorporate as a non-profit or become a charity?
When you are starting out, keep it simple and easy. Unless you are getting into significant fundraising or cash flow, there is no need to incorporate as a non-profit.
Becoming a legal charity that can issue tax receipts for donations is very time-consuming and expensive. If you are considering doing fundraising for your park, there are far easier alternatives than becoming charitable (see the fundraising section)
How do we reach out and work effectively with our community?
- Particularly in your early days, focus on fun, hands on events in the park rather than on lengthy meetings
- Once you are further along, a community meeting is a great way to find out if your group is doing a good job representing the community’s interests
- Hold an occasional meeting in a bar or a café – make it a fun social night where people get to meet their neighbours
- Reach out to all users of the park. You will be amazed that each group has their own formal and informal networks – dog walkers, walking groups, parents of kids at the playground, recreation users
- Meet with local business people, faith groups, staff from local institutions (schools, hospitals, nursing homes). You will find that most everyone has a connection with the park
YOUR PARK PARTNERS
Whose park is it?
As citizens, we all have a say and a responsibility for our shared public spaces. Often these spaces are municipally owned parks, but they can also be social housing lands, schoolyards, electric transmission corridors or civic plazas. It’s important, before undertaking any work in the park, to find out who owns the land and who runs the maintenance operations. Connect with your local representative before undertaking any park projects. Your role as a community park group is to:
- Serve in an advisory and supportive capacity to the work of park staff who undertake key work in the park (e.g. maintenance, improvements)
- Provide an independent, knowledgeable and “on the ground” voice for the residents of a community and the users of a park about conditions, programs and needs for the park
- Supplement the work of park staff by helping jump start and raise funds for park improvements and by providing support for core maintenance and park programming (e.g. park clean up days, community picnic in the park)
How do we work with local politicians and their offices?
- Invite your local councillor or one of their staff to your public events and key meetings
- Send email updates so they know what is happening in your park. Ask them to post events and meetings on their website and newsletter
- When minor issues arise in your park, make park staff your first point of contact. Save contacting your local councillor for when your concerns are not being addressed or when there are major problems.
- Include your local councillor early when you are generating ideas or making plans for building new projects in your park
- Your local councillor’s support for improvements in your park will be crucial for obtaining funding
How do we work with park staff?
Ask any local community park group and they will say that one of the keys to their success has been building a constructive relationship with the staff who oversee the park. Find the park staff person whose job it is to monitor and stay on top of all key problems and issues in their assigned parks.
Build a relationship with your park staff by:
- Inviting them to your meetings
- Keeping them informed of your activities and concerns
- Introducing yourself to summer park maintenance staff and recreation staff at rinks or community centres. They care about your parks too!
PARK EVENTS & IMPROVEMENTS
What activities and issues should our group focus on?
Your priorities will depend on the needs you identify in your park as well as the talents and interests of the people involved. One person can’t do it all – try assigning key people with a specific initiative. Here are just a few examples:
- Park maintenance: Hold a clean up day or arrange with your park staff to mulch park trees or paint benches and picnic tables.
- Park improvements: Plan, advocate and fundraise for a new playground, better lighting and paths, outdoor furniture, splash pad, water fountain, basketball court or off-leash dog area.
- Greening the park: Plant and maintain trees, shrubs and gardens, implement the Adopt-A-Park Tree program , do a tree inventory to determine the health of your forest canopy, remove invasive species (you may need permission from your park staff and/or the stewardship department of your City).
- Children and Youth: Improve playgrounds and recreation facilities, add a children’s garden or basketball court.
- Health: Lead walks in the park, yoga, Tai Chi.
- Community events Organize picnics, festivals, movie nights, skating parties, clothing and toy swap markets
- Park tours and hikes: Host a Jane’s Walk, tree tour, historical walk, nature walk.
- Food in the park: Start a farmer’s market, plant a community food garden or a community orchard, build a bake oven or fire pit, bring in healthy local food concessions, build a greenhouse.
- Arts and culture: Celebrate with theatre and dance projects, music, mural painting.
- Winter projects Embrace winter in your park by building a natural ice rink, host a winter festival, skating parties with hot chocolate, campfires.
How do we get improvements made to our park?
Your group can be the critical catalyst to making great new projects happen in your park.
- Determine your priorities. Is it a new playground? Lighting? Benches? Tree plantings?
- If your project has many different elements, consider getting a landscape plan done by a volunteer landscape architect or with the help of your local park staff. A volunteer landscape architect, your city’s Landscape Architecture Unit or other community park groups in your area may help you get an understanding of the costs of your ideas.
- Connect with your park staff and local councillor’s office. Budgets for park improvements are usually set a number of years in advance so find out if any funding has already been allocated. Present the case for your priorities, tour the park, and show the need and the public support for these improvements.
- Get a letter of support from your local representative and their commitment to advocate for your project. Get the project approved in principle by the park staff – you don’t want to be fundraising for a project and find out there are environmental, safety or other concerns.
- Build public support for your project through petitions, talking to the media or reaching out to other community organizations.
FUNDRAISING & MARKETING
Building your local park network
- Be open and inviting to everyone. Make your meetings open to anyone, share all information on your work, and ensure that your group represents the broad diversity of your community and the users of your park
- Register your group with Park People and join our network
- Find out if there is a formal Adopt-A-Park or Park Ambassador program in your city. Search your city’s website or call 311 to connect with the coordinator of your city’s park engagement program
What’s the best way to get the word out?
- Develop your core email list of everyone who has expressed an interest in the group and in improving the park. Keep building and adding to this list
- Establish a Facebook page or a website. Make your site attractive with lots of pictures of your park
- Add your community park group to the Community Park Group map. That way, people in the neighbourhood will know that your group exists
- Use posters in the local recreation centre, library, councillor’s office, cafes and businesses.
- Ask your local representative to post information in their website and newsletter
“We organize a bazaar in our park every Friday that includes food, South Asian clothing, jewelry, textiles and free shows and art classes for children. It creates economic development opportunities in our community because almost all the vendors are women from our community. And it brings hundreds of people into our park every week to meet, share information, enjoy and have fun.”
Who can help us?
You are not alone and there are many people who want to help you succeed! Park People is here to support and guide you every step of the way. Check out all the information on our website. Sign up for our newsletter and check our Facebook and Twitter feed to stay on top of new developments in parks across the country. Attend our in-person or virtual events to meet and learn from other park groups.
Where can we find sources of funding for our project?
- The most important source of money is your city’s local parks budget. The budget and the priorities are set each year.
- Research whether development levies are available in your region. If so, talk to your local political representative about whether you can access these funds for park improvements in your area.
- In addition to your own fundraising, consider applying to various government, private and corporate foundations. Contact information for many of these granting agencies is available on our Funding For Parks page.
- Remember, funders are usually more interested in funding a project when other funders are at the table.
What’s the best way to do our own fundraising?
Fundraising is never easy but it’s a critical way to show that there’s support for your project in your community. Here are a few ideas that have been used by park groups across Canada.
- Partner with a local service club or charitable group: Instead of becoming your own charity, partner with an existing charity who can collect donations and issue tax receipts. To create a partnership, consider reaching out to your local business improvement association (BIA) or service clubs (Kiwanis, Rotary, Lions etc).
- Recognize donations by “selling” a specific element in your project: Examples of this might be selling engraved paving stones to refurbish a path or straw bales to support a community garden.
- Hold a fundraising event: Consider hosting a special event in the neighbourhood, such as a concert or theatre performance, selling tickets and hosting a silent auction to raise funds.
- Use a crowd-funding platform: Crowd-funding platforms, such as Indie Gogo and Small Change Fund will allow you to collect donations online spreading your reach beyond your fundraising event.