Monday, 19 May 2008

The dilemma of a park with two names

This is being publicised as the 'Highfields (Park) Week of Action', although the only event I have so far seen publicised is tomorrow's (Tuesday) 'Volunteer Clean Up Day', 12.30–3.00pm, meeting at the Lakeside Pavilion. I won't be able to make it, so I decided to do my own little 'before and after' tour this morning when I walked to Beeston. I walk through the park at least once most weeks, so I think I know it pretty well.

In addition, I've been visiting Highfields regularly for nearly thirty years in the company of my children, then my grandchildren. It is also where I learnt to play bowls and I have attended numerous events in the old park pavilion and tearooms, then in the Djanology Arts Centre and, in recent years, the D H Lawrence Pavilion as well. It is a park I love, not just because of its proximity to Lenton, but because it epitomises everything that a good park should be: beautiful, quiet, serene, fun, educational, life affirming and full of family memories of good times. The list just goes on and on.

There are other parks I love: Wollaton Hall, Cannon Hill Park in Birmingham, Barham Park (if it is still called that) in Wembley, Greenwich Park and, of course, Lenton Recreation Ground. None of these have been in my thoughts as much as Highfields since I attended the second meeting of the new Nottingham Open Spaces Forum (NOSF) (which I plan to blog about in more detail in the next week or so). Last week NOSF was told that Highfields is not considered to rank as a 'destination park' attracting visitors from outside Nottingham. It has been ranked as a 'city park'. To be a 'destination park' it would need to have something like Wollaton Hall, Nottingham Castle or Green's Windmill. The Djanology Arts Centre and the D H Lawrence Pavilion don't count because of a technicality — they are not owned by Nottingham City Council. This is plainly a nonsense and flies in the face of common sense, so I have to suspect that there is more to its ranking than meets the eye.

Before sharing a possible reason I want to share with you a few of the pictures I took this morning as I walked along Highfield Park's southern edge.

The east entrance to Highfields on East Drive. The signage gives no clues as to the park's name. It is all about Nottingham University and 'Lakeside' (the D H Lawrence Pavilion by another name). No wonder many people believe this to be part of 'University Park' — a name which appears on many published maps — and have no idea that they are, in fact, entering Highfields Park.

Through the gate I walked over to the tired playground and saw this man with his metal detector searching for coins lost by park visitors.

Then I saw three City Council trucks. Perhaps the first arrivals at 9.30am in the morning, getting ready to take part in Highfields 'Week of Action'?

Past the trucks I turned back towards the park's boundary with University Boulevard and passed by where Tottlebrook goes underground for a while. It is very overgrown as my picture shows. Once my kids and I could paddle here.

Then a hint of the kind of vistas Highfields can offer. Who would think that I am in a city and yards away from a busy dual carriageway?

Once the rhododendron bushes were something to behold. My mother used to love coming to Nottingham to stay when they were in flower. Over the last ten years or so they have become woody and overgrown, with brambles smothering what is left of them. It will cost a small fortune to save them (assuming it is still possible). Even with my limited knowledge of plant care, I fear the worst. I also wonder if it will be worth trying to save them if they are then neglected for another 10–20 years? It is really very sad to see them in this state and speaks volumes of Nottingham City Council's failure to care for its parks over the last 20 years.

Walking back to the lake through the wooded area and there is another glimpse of the Highfields that used to be. How my kids have loved these paths and trees. I will back here next Sunday in the company of some of my younger grandchildren at the request of my son, who is now 36. The memories of happy times continues to burn bright.

Where Tottlebrook runs through the wood all you have is mud. Once you could walk along this stretch looking for tadpoles and sticklebacks!

I wonder what Jesse Boot would make of Highfields Park if he could see it today? Eighty years ago on 10 July 1928 the park was officially opened at the same time as the then Nottingham University College's new Trent Building was opened by the King. I have a copy of the book published to mark the occasion. By any measure his gift to Nottingham people has been poorly served by its sole trustee, Nottingham City Council. Do they, today, have the will or the vision to address the problems facing Highfields? I suspect they would breathe a sigh of relief if someone else took on the challenge.

Rarely noticed, one of two birds (eagles?) guarding the main entrance.

A lone croquet player getting in some early Monday morning practice.

A little further on and Tootlebrook flows a little freer and clearer than it does anywhere else in the park and offers a small hint as to what once was.

By now it's 10am and I have still have much of Highfields to myself and a vista much as it has always been.

The west end of the lake has been like this for years. This picture tells you all you need to know about the care and attention Highfields receives.

Locked and no longer accessible, the stepping stones are listed, not that the padlocks have stopped someone dumping a large shopping trolley in the rock pool. This is another place my family have loved visiting and paddling in. Now it stinks and is filthy. If the rock pools and waterfall are ever restored to their former glory, I just hope that children (and adults) will again be able to paddle and soak their feet on hot sunny summer days.

The fencing between the campus and the park is slowly disappearing, no doubt stolen over countless nights. Perhaps the two will merge thanks to thieves and inaction on the part of the city council. If this does happen I suspect the university won't be too upset, nor will I.

The Paddling Pool went so long ago that I cannot remember when it ceased to be, although I do remember in the early-1990s asking a city councillor why it was being neglected and I was told that 'The council has no intention of paying for something used by kids from Beeston'. The paddling pool lives on as a bus stop and the in-bus announcer still says 'Next stop, Paddling Pool'. I like that, and although I would love to see another paddling pool in the park, I suspect that 21st century 'health and safety' regulations would forbid such a thing on ground of hygiene and disease.

Finally, the end of my walk through Highfields and what do I find at the Beeston end of the park, but a sign telling everyone the parks name and who owns it. There is a similar sign down the other end, but it is not so prominently located. By rights if the park has been ranked in a lower category because the city council does not own the 'Lakeside Art Centre' of the café, what is it doing advertising them on its signage? If they are part of the park, then, surely, it should be ranked as a 'destination park'?

As I hinted at the beginning of this posting, I suspect there is more to its ranking than a formula devised with the help of consultants. I think it is about preparing us, the people of Nottingham, for the day when all the iron fencing disappears and the Highfields and University parks become a seamless whole. Now there's a thought for us all to ponder and if it were to happen, perhaps it would not be the bad thing I once thought it would be!

Labour's support is in freefall, according to a new Guardian/ICM poll. It shows that the party's position - 14 points behind the Conservatives - is worse than at any time since May 1987, just before Margaret Thatcher won her third election by a landslide.

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