Victoria Park redevelopment plans revealed
Plans for the future of Victoria Park have been revealed, following a planning application that will potentially allow for the restoration and redevelopment of one of Ashford’s oldest and most-loved green spaces.
The Victoria Park plans were first unveiled in 2018, when Ashford Borough Council announced it would be seeking funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and Big Lottery Fund to transform the park from its existing state to a space which will suit the changing needs of the local community. The project aims to place Victoria Park at the heart of the local community, improve local knowledge of the site and make the area around the park a better place to live, work, visit and enjoy.
An initial £167,000 development grant for Victoria Park from the HLF and Big Lottery Fund’s Parks for People grant programme was awarded to the council last year, to help deliver the primary stages of this exciting project.
The development grant has enabled the council to produce and submit a detailed second round bid to the HLF began in order to apply for £4.4m; if the bid is successful this sum will allow for full delivery of this ambitious masterplan, transforming Victoria Park into an attractive destination that boosts local civic pride, promotes wellbeing and celebrates the rich heritage of the site.
After careful consultation with the public, members and key stakeholders, this bid was submitted at the end of February 2019, with a decision due in July.
The consultation phase was extremely popular, with over 1,000 participants giving feedback on how they would like to see the park improved and the funding invested. Findings from the consultation included the need to tackle perceptions of anti-social behaviour and improve safety and security; involve young people in all aspects of the project; develop a community hub including café and better toilets; create new play provision; organise a range of activities, events, interpretation and volunteering opportunities.
The council applied to the Parks for People programme to help support delivery of the masterplan. The project will reconnect people of Ashford with their largest historic park by delivering improvements for heritage, people and communities, working with the town’s growing community to make Victoria Park a high-quality well-loved destination, where people feel safe, enjoy well managed facilities, and celebrate their built, ecological and social heritage.
The project aims to create and improve habitats along the River Stour, repair the grade II* Hubert Fountain, restore and redefine the Park’s historic layout and planting, and improve core facilities including a Community Hub, Park HQ, interpretation, play spaces, and accessibility.
Children and young people are integral to the delivery of the proposed activity programme, which will include large and small events, new volunteering roles and training, resources for schools and a horticultural apprenticeship. Four new staff posts and numerous volunteering opportunities are proposed to deliver the project and sustain HLF and project outcomes well into the future.
Providing the community with a pleasant environment to visit and enjoy is important to the council and the new funding will help create a well-maintained space for much loved local events such as the ever-growing Create Music Festival and other cultural activities, events and entertainment.
Of the plans, Cllr Mike Bennett, Portfolio Holder for Culture, said: “The regeneration of Victoria Park is an ambitious and exciting project that will boost the areas natural beauty and heritage as well as encouraging people to value, enjoy and care for their local park.
“Victoria Park and Watercress Fields are unique, and this funding would ensure the park continues to play a meaningful role in the life and fabric of the town. We look forward to working with our community and key partners to develop the plans in more detail.”
Last year, HLF’s Chief Executive Ros Kerslake, said, on behalf of HLF and Big Lottery Fund: “It’s difficult to overstate the importance of our public parks. Vital to our well-being and essential to biodiversity, they are highly valued spaces enjoyed daily by people from all walks of life.
“Victoria Park is one of the latest parks to benefit from over £900million of National Lottery funding, which over the last twenty years has played a crucial role in revitalising more than 800 parks across the UK.”