Wednesday, 16 January 2008

Breathing new life into Nottingham’s parks

As I was leaving the park today I saw this bush with pale green flowers. I have no idea what it is.

Derry from The Meadows parks treating the bowling greens at Lenton Recreation Ground for moss this morning (16 January 2008).

Here we are in the middle of winter and the work of breathing new life into our bowling greens goes on. We're probably no more than ten weeks away from a new season and if March turns out to be a mild month, I suspect the lads will want to playing even sooner than the beginning of April (when the first games were played in 2007). By all accounts it's going to be another heavy season for our bowling greens, so they need to be well prepared. I don't know what the spray contained, but looking at the gear that Derry is wearing is may well be lethal to more than just moss!

Today's heading was not inspired by Derry and his machine, it actually comes from an article I wrote for the Nottingham Civic Society Newsletter, which arrived today. Three copies in fact. One we receive as members, one for review in The Nottinghamshire Historian and an extra one from the Newsletter's editor, Ken Brand. This has enabled me to give a copy to our groundsman Dave, who told me it was going to New Zealand with him next week, and to send one to Stefan Kruczkowski, who used to be our Parks Development Officer.

Now my article has been published I feel free to share it with my blog readers as well:

Parks in Nottingham are about to get topical and not before time. Open space accounts for about 20% of the area covered by Nottingham City Council. The chances are that you are already ahead of me and thinking about the Nottingham parks you know and like. Highfields Park, Wollaton Park, Woodthorpe Park, The Arboretum, Lenton Recreation Ground… Hang on, run that last one past me again.

All this heady talk of Nottingham parks and their future over the next ten years and I want to tell you more about Lenton Recreation Ground. Why? Because it’s a success story and a model of how a local community and the city council can work in partnership.

Robert Mellors in his book, The Gardens, Parks and Walks of Nottingham and District, published in 1926, describes it as ‘the nearest approach to a village green that we have, for the parish church tower looks down on it benignantly (sic), and the bells ring as the children play. There are two bowling greens largely used, and comfortable seating for resting’. And so it is today. He would find a scene little changed except for a pavilion which overlooks the bowling greens.

For its size, it is probably the busiest park in Nottingham and this led to a crisis in 2003 when the large grassed playing area had to be re-seeded and fenced off for the best part of a year. Instead of grass we had mud; instead of play areas we had broken fences and damaged swings and roundabouts. The park was a mess. Overuse and neglect made worse by years of underspending by the city council culminated in a meeting in the mud between local residents, the Dunkirk and Lenton Partnership Forum, local councillors, Parks Department managers and representatives from the University of Nottingham. That was the day things changed.

Lenton Recreation Ground got its own full-time groundsman, Dave, who is joined by a colleague, Simon, throughout the bowling season 1 April–30 September. They care for our park and are the best ambassadors it has. Visitors see them at work in the park and they respect them for what they do. It gives them a status and authority which enables them to manage any situation which arises. Dave also has a small budget to spend on planting and other items. There is an active Park Consultative Group which is part of the Dunkirk and Lenton Partnership Forum. Most of the time our quarterly meetings are attended by only 7–8 local residents but, when an issue arises, there can be as many as 20 residents and representatives from the seven bowls clubs who use the bowling greens. Local residents of all ages are encouraged to become involved in a number of a ways. The recreation ground hosts the annual Dunkirk and Lenton Community Festival and a city council ‘Parklife’ event each summer. This year some county level bowls matches were played in the park and local residents did ‘Tea in the Park’ one weekend a month to raise money for local causes.

Our first attempt to form a park support group attracted little support, but by the time we tried again the park was in a really bad way and a new Parks Development Officer, Stefan Kruczkowski, became involved. He was a breath of fresh air and once local residents realised he really meant what he said, things began to happen. Other members of the Parks Team were also very supportive. The meeting in the mud allowed everyone to see just how bad things were and an immediate plan of action was hammered out on the spot.

Local residents, including students, may have lost much of their park for a year or more, but the rewards were tangible. In 2005 the park was awarded its first Green Flag and again in 2006 and 2007. Young children got a new playground and the teenagers got a basketball ‘dunking’ area, which has been a fantastic success. Local residents and schoolchildren have planted thousands of bulbs over the last few years and the park is now a sea of colour every spring and early summer. There is a Nottingham Peace Garden on the way and other ideas about how we can make Lenton Recreation Ground better still without spending lots of money.

Other factors have helped. The recreation ground has an open prospect, with plenty of pedestrians walking by. It is also overlooked by a row of Victorian houses and is a short cut between the Derby Road and Old Lenton. Many other parks are more enclosed, surrounded by back gardens, and have an air of neglect about them. With no permanent staff during the day, they are less likely to be used even as a short cut. An occasional visit by a community warden, a support officer or a park ranger is no substitute for more permanent staff like Dave.

As a community, we are mindful that there are other parks nearby which need their ‘day in the sun’. The money available is finite, so it must be shared fairly. Whilst the City Council and the Civic Society should take the lead in the stewardship of our larger city parks, it is up to local communities to take on some kind of responsibility, in partnership with the city’s area committees, for neighbourhood and smaller parks and open spaces. Local communities need to be aware of their role and the contribution they can make to improving all of Nottingham parks’ and open spaces.

The City Council’s hefty report, Breathing Space: A Strategic Framework for the Management of Nottingham’s Open and Green Spaces 2007–2017, addresses all these issues and many more. As worthy as the report is, it contains no information about the location and size of individual parks and open spaces, staffing levels, the existing management structure and how this will change. It mentions an audit in 2005 of ‘118 Parks and Gardens and 73 Natural and Semi Natural Sites’. It doesn’t mention who owns or controls what within Nottingham. I suspect that some open space belongs to Highways and City Homes as well as Parks. The City Council estimates that the cost of implementing the report is £35,644,000. By the time 2017 comes along I suspect that much more than this will have been spent. From my experience of local government finances this sum seems like an under-estimate. In reality no one wants to admit to the true cost for fear of jeopardising this welcome plan to save our parks for future generations.

I know that Councillor Dave Trimble, the Portfolio Holder for Culture, Community Services and Tourism, responsible for parks and open spaces has some radical thoughts of his own about the way forward. I hope his ideas are given serious consideration. Being able to see and enjoy open space has a vital role to play in the health and wellbeing of Nottingham wherever you live in the city. My personal ambition is see the city enveloped in a web of green threads linking open spaces and natural sites of all kinds, with a realistic annual budget beyond the reach of politicians and managers looking for easy targets when it comes to budget cuts. Perhaps we need some kind of ‘Nottingham Parks Trust’? Most of all, I want people like you to get involved in the debate to come about our parks and open spaces and to be inspired by my story of Lenton Recreation Ground to see what you can do to help your local park!

If you made it this far, I hope my piece has made you feel good about our little park. I have some other park issues I want to write about, but they will have to wait until Friday at the earliest. In the meantime go and have a look at

St James' Park is preparing for a second coming after Newcastle this afternoon announced that Kevin Keegan is to become the club's new manager (he first managed Newcastle 1992–1997).


Rosie said...

Your plant is a Hellebore - I can't tell from your photo but if the flowers are white it is a Christmas Rose if more green with white tinges it is helleborus argutifolia also known as helleborus corsicus. We have the green flowered one in our garden.

See you soon

Robert said...

Thank you Rosie.

The flowers are pale green so it must be the helleborus corsicus.

Robert x