When it comes to the running of valued community assets the public themselves can get nervous at the prospect of change.
So when Knowsley Council decided to outsource the management and future development of Bowring Park and Golf Course, a plan was put in place to ensure the process was as open and collaborative as possible. It secured the future success of such a treasured public space.
What was once known as Roby Hall Estate in Knowsley dates back to 1761 when it was designed by the then Mayor of Liverpool John Williamson.
In 1907 Roby Hall Estate was bought by Alderman Sir William Bowring and gifted to the public. It became Bowring Park and, within a decade, a nine-hole golf course had been added to the amenities. It later became an 18-hole course.
Fast forward to recent times and under the stewardship of Knowsley Council the park and golf course were costing the authority in the region of £250,000 a year. It put out a tender to bring in an outside operator to run the location and put together a development action plan that would put it on a sustainable footing.
In late March 2022, a company called Oneday took over the site. They arrived following a two-year process that involved the park's users and, crucially, with the support of the Friends of Bowring Park and Bowrings Mens and Womens Golf Clubs.
Oneday specialise in developing strategies, concepts and developments that release the economic and social value of public and private assets. The team has established a track record of delivering projects for clients across the country from Ramsgate to the Ribble Valley.
Its recent work includes plans for over 30 high streets and town centres and shaping commercial models for projects ranging from theaters to markets, retail and leisure offers.
Director Matt Bell worked in retail for Woolworths working from the shop floor to the Head Office prior to its closure. He later worked in a senior role as a director on Grosvenor’s £1bn Liverpool ONE scheme for five years.
“There is a lot of debate about whether a public asset should be run by the private sector, the public sector or the third sector,” said Matt. “But we don’t think it should always be a binary choice.
“We think it is about bringing the best from all three of those elements and that's what we’ve done at Bowring Park. It is about making places work for people and getting things done. In truth we are all still emerging from COVID but we are in a place now where we just have to get on with it and make things happen again.”
And get on with it they have. Since taking over Oneday has implemented an initial £1.2m development plan. When they took over there were two people looking after the 80-plus acre site with a further three people dealing with the park's users.
Now Oneday has created a team that is 19-strong and, thanks to the investment secured the team have been able to complete the the National Lottery Heritage Fund Restoration Project that had stalled and there has been a significant amount of work done on the restoration of the facilities.
Thanks to funding secured by Knowsley Council a new children’s playground has been built. The coach house has been relaunched with a food and drink offer provided by local business Root Catering.
Events space has also been created in the buildings and a purpose built 11,000 sq ft external events space; one of the largest in the city region created.
Plans are moving forward to create a new club house as part of a five-year plan and that will be delivered in full consultation with all the golfers and golf societies that use the course. Buy-in from all the users of the park has been critical to the process, said Matt.
He explained: “Working with Knowsley Council has been really refreshing. They have taken a really different approach.
“The whole process has been transparent and shaped a genuine partnership approach to challenges like how to manage important community assets in the face of rising costs and funding cuts. .
“We have worked with the Friends of Bowring Park, with the golfers and golf clubs and societies and with all the other users. Everyone is important, including the people who just come to the park for fresh air or to walk their dogs.
“The principle we work to is about creating different uses for different people at different times. This is not about a private business just coming in and taking over. It is about bringing people together and everyone using their strengths.
“From partners such as Myerscough College to the council and Knowsley Chamber it's felt like a genuine Knowsley effort and the support from everyone has been great!
“Yes, there has to be a commercial side to it and it has to be sustainable. Running the park costs a lot of money. But it is not about putting a fence around it. We have to create a space that is accessible to everyone.”
Oneday has entered into a long-term arrangement with the council and Matt feels that is important to the success of the collaboration. He added: “You could bring someone in for just five years but that would then just be an exercise in maximising commercial value.
“We are here for the long term and we aim to create something that is sustainable and creates real value for everyone. Our approach is the full range of services from consultancy, delivery and development.
“This way it ensures there is a consistent team at all stages of the process and the plans we create are viable and get delivered. Our team has the capacity and skills to carry out every step of the process from design and funding to building, managing and operating.”
April is the next big landmark for the Bowring Park project when the golf season gets under way and people start to come to the location in greater numbers as the weather improves. Customer feedback so far has been really positive so we’re going to make sure more and more people enjoy a trip to Bowring and crucially, keep on coming back.
Matt said: “We want to relaunch the park in April but also bear in mind that we are nine months into the current five-year project so there is still more work to be done.
“We have a fantastic team here now and they are really getting things done. And the council has been brilliant. Their approach has made a real difference. It is mostly about listening to people and creating a place everyone can enjoy.”
Cllr Shelley Powell, Knowsley’s Cabinet Member for Communities and Neighbourhoods, added: “Oneday share Knowsley Council’s vision for the future of Bowring Park.
“The company is proving it has the commercial acumen, investment potential, and social and environmental credentials to be able to run the park as a successful commercial venture and sustainable community asset.”