One of the most cherished and central aspects of community life is shared green spaces – areas where people congregate, walk the dog, go for a run, enjoy a moment of contemplation, take in a stunning view, or sit on a warm bench and flick through their copy of the Berwick Advertiser!
In Berwick, we are blessed with some gorgeous bits of the great outdoors. Over the last four years or so it has been a delight to see the parks around the castle and the station – Castle Vale Park and Coronation Park – become welcoming and cared-for spaces once more. This renaissance was spearheaded through the County Council’s Strategic Parks Project and largely funded by Heritage Lottery money. The parks – and all the community events that take place in them – are lovingly tended by Parks Manager Kate Morison and her small band of volunteers. It’s a massive job and always a work in progress. That’s gardening for you: it is frustrating and demanding; it’s also life-enhancing on a range of levels.
Events in the parks (mostly free) are instrumental in engaging the community and ensuring our common spaces are used in ways that are positive and beneficial for all – and for raising funds for tools and plants. We have a Dawn Chorus walk, an Easter Bunny Hunt, a ‘Meet the Ancestors Day’, a Beastie Hunt (see below), and a Halloween event. There will soon be a new sculpture trail. Sculptor David Gross specialises in large wooden sculptures and is workshopping with local schools to develop a sculpture trail in the parks based on the children’s designs. It’s so exciting to see young people engaging with our open spaces in constructive and dynamic ways. Such initiatives are surely a massive investment in the future of our parks.
The recent Open Parks & Garden Day (pics below) was an opportunity to buy plants, chat with Kate and volunteers about the parks, and visit seven private gardens. From Tintagel House at the foot of Bank Hill, to Castle Hills House (the former maternity hospital) you could meander from garden to garden, meet gardeners, enjoy the eclectic mix of gardens on offer, guzzle huge quantities of tea and cake, and support the upkeep of the parks along the way. It’s the second year Open Parks & Garden has taken place – this year we raised over £600: thank you! – and we’re already planning next year’s event. If your garden is reasonably near Castle Vale Park or Coronation Park, why not join in next year? Just get in touch with Kate (see below).
Mind you, things may look quite different next year. Lottery funding for the parks ends in June 2018 and so, therefore, does the funding for Kate’s job. With no paid parks manager to co-ordinate volunteers, devote time and expert knowledge to maintaining the parks and the rolling programme of events, it will be a tall order to keep these beautiful spaces as accessible and cared-for as they are now. It seems mad that so much money should go into refurbing these green spaces, only for them to decline again a few years later. Of course, the Friends of Castle Parks are doing our best to try to ensure that will not happen and it’s possible (but by no means certain) that Kate’s contract may be extended for a year. But then what? These public green spaces bring communities together in so many ways, it’s worth fighting to keep them professionally managed. It’s a tough battle: resources are being taken away from parks all over the country. The Friends need all the support we can get. Do make your voices heard by speaking with your local town and county councillors, joining the Friends group and/or volunteering in the parks.
(A version of this article was first published in the Berwick Advertiser 20 July 2017)