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A short history of the CABE Space leaders programme.

What was it?

The CABE Space leaders programme was an intensive, three day residential leadership programme designed specifically for green space managers. It was held annually between 2006 and 2010 and in most years was held in a different location. With speakers and workshops delivered by leading experts from the UK, Europe and US, a relatively small cohort of delegates (numbers were limited to about 80 each year) and a organising team committed to developing an active programme that would engage, challenge and inspire, the programme quickly established a reputation as one of the ‘must attend’ events for current and aspiring senior green space managers. Arguably it also helped highlight the need, demand and opportunities for high quality, tailored leadership development in shaping the future of the sector. 

Why was it developed?

CABE Space was established by CABE in May 2003, at the request of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, to specifically champion urban public space in improving quality of life. In responding to its remit, one of the new team’s founding aims was ‘to promote and develop skills and training needs for delivering and supporting improvements’ (Thinking Space, CABE 2003). During 2003 and 2004 CABE Space commissioned a number of pieces of research to better understand the needs and guide its work. This research ultimately led to the collaborative development of a national skills strategy for the urban green space sector, published in 2009 as Skills to grow: seven priorities to improve green space skills.

However, one of the messages that came out strongly from this early research was that green space managers were operating in an increasingly strategic environment, and engaging with a wider range of agendas and audiences that may have been the case in the past. Against a backdrop of underinvestment in the skills of the sector, at all levels, over recent years, a gap was identified for leadership development opportunities tailored to the needs, and budgets, of green space managers.

Drawing on the recent success of the CABE Urban design summer school, launched in 2004, the decision was taken to seek tenders from partners able to help CABE Space develop and run a residential leadership programme for green space managers. 

Who was it for?

The programme was developed for people already working in the sector. The primary target group was those already managing a network of parks and open spaces who were looking for new ideas and skills to move the green space agenda forward in their area. But an important secondary group was those who might not yet be in a strategic management role but were excited about the challenges of managing green spaces and wanted to develop into a leadership position in the future.

This mix of ‘old hands’ and ‘new blood’ proved an important part of the dynamism of the resulting programme.

How did it work?

In September 2005 CABE Space invited tenders from organisations interested in developing a new ‘flagship’ event ‘that engages and inspires, which enables participants to learn from one another as well as be inspired by new and innovative practice’ (Invitation to tender, 2005).

Following short listing and interviews, a contract was offered to Pathways Consultancy ( to work with CABE Space and a specially established Steering Group to develop what became the CABE Space leaders programme.

The first CABE Space leaders programme was held in Sheffield in March 2006 and its success established the model that formed the back bone of the four subsequent events. For more information about the structure it is worth referring to the programme pages for the individual years.

The first year also confirmed the split of responsibilities between CABE, the Steering group and the Pathways team.

CABE Space: Agreeing goals; Contracting; Selecting a venue from those shortlisted by Pathways Consultancy; Contract management; Marketing identity; Approval of marketing messages; Advice and support in identifying and attracting key speakers; Supporting successful delivery; Evaluation

Steering group: Advising on priorities; Advising on location; Identification of speakers and workshop leaders; Channels through which to promote the programme; Contribution to delivery (as speakers, mentors, workshop leaders); Evaluation

Pathways Consultancy: Short-listing and selecting a venue; Contracting with venue; Developing the programme; Promoting the programme; Managing bookings, including collecting delegate fees; Contracting with contributors, including pre-event briefings; Risk assessments; Pre-event communications with delegates; Preparation of programmes and other delegate resources; Planning the logistics from set-up to get-out; Supporting successful delivery; Evaluation; Post-event CD of resources

When and where was it held?

All CABE Space leaders programmes were held in the Spring: the earliest 10 – 13 February (2009) and the latest 21 – 24 March (2006). Although the timing made planning site visits problematic, it was chosen as the time of year when green space managers were most likely to feel able to justify time away from the office.

How much did it cost?

From the outset pricing was a balancing act. Research had established that average annual training budgets for green space teams were generally low and certainly not enough in most cases to cover the full costs of a business standard leadership programme. Therefore, to ensure the fee charged to delegates was affordable for most authorities, CABE Space provided a level of core funding. In addition in 2009 the programme was jointly funded by Natural England and CABE Space, and in all five years the Academy for Sustainable Communities (and latterly the Homes and Communities Agency) provided additional funding. In addition many speakers and contributors provided their time at below their usual rate or simply accepted expenses.

Together this allowed a delegate fee of £455 plus VAT to be charged in 2006 rising to £560 plus VAT in 2010.

Where next?

CABE Space leaders programme 2010 was the last of its kind. In 2009 CABE Space and partners published Skills to grow, a national strategy to guide the development of sector skills. Building on the relationships established in developing the Skills to grow strategy and the experience and successes of the CABE Space leaders programme, in 2010 CABE Space launched a programme of regional workshops, the CABE Space leaders workshops, designed both to attract new audiences as well as to provide next step learning for past delegates.   

Where to look for more information

For more information about the CABE Space leaders programme, including copies of marketing materials for all years and the programmes and evaluation reports of the more recent ones, turn to the pages for the individual years: 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010.

For more information about the CABE Space leaders workshops, there is a page on this site which contains both information and links to further online resources.