Paving the way to accessible local parks

As part of our Paving the Way campaign, which aims to make walking in towns and cities the easy choice, we’ve released new research into walking in parks and green spaces alongside the Town and Country Planning Association. This research that shows that people want well maintained parks and green spaces and feel that their mental and physical health and wellbeing is improved by spending time in ones that are well cared for. The research also looks at six different local authorities that have come up with creative solutions to caring for parks in a time of restricted public spending. Find out more and download the research.

In this blog, Jane Wilcock, Chair of Friends of Longsight Park in Bolton, writes about some of the innovative solutions that the group have come up with to make their local park more accessible for everyone.

Our local park in Harwood, Bolton, is Longsight Park and like lots of parks, has lacked investment in infrastructure over several years. To tackle this lack of investment, I set up the Friends of Longsight Park. We wrote a constitution, we are too small in income to be a registered charity, we have a secretary, a chair (myself) a treasurer and a bank account. The council pay our insurance. We don’t have formal meetings: the rule is we agree projects at the AGM for the year and we meet at the end of our work and discuss the next meeting or project. This makes us time efficient.

 We all want to be able to walk outside but it can be difficult when paths are very muddy, especially in areas of high rainfall. It can be difficult when we get older and have mobility problems to find a suitable place to walk. We all want good, level paths to exercise and relax.

First off, we wanted to make paths more accessible for people with limited mobility, starting with the 350m walk around Millennium Wood, planted at the time by school children. But by the time the Bolton council arborist met us in April 2014, the paths had become so overgrown, he wasn’t sure where the path was! He agreed to re-lay the surface of the path - this lasts 10 years and so was overdue. You can see from the photo below left what the path looked like before we started work on it! The one below right shows the difference a few months later. It is now well used, people using walking sticks get round, too. The wood is made up of willow, hazel and alder trees, and attracts rabbits and many birds, especially bullfinch. We’ve also added a few fruit bushes and two apple trees.


Buoyed by this success, we decided to tackle other paths. The main entrance to Longsight Park has 150m of driveway in tarmac, but the rest of the paths were badly in need of repair. We decided to concentrate on the top, flat area first. An overgrown, tarmac old path was found to the right under grass, which we cut back, and the third inter-locking path with its broken benches, was very muddy and uneven. This flat, inter-locking area of 3 paths seemed ideal for exercise in all weathers. It took 3 years of campaigning to get them in a better state. We were told initially that “up and down the driveway was enough for disabled people”. Indeed, two men using zimmer frames, supported by their partners used to do just that. The council initially told us to find local people who might want the paths repaired. We found success when we asked the council why people with mobility problems would not want to have decent paths. No-one will visit a park if it takes 1-2 hours to get ready and is not accessible - the park has to be accessible first to attract all locals to it.

Our 3 local councillors have been very supportive, turn out with us regularly and ask me to present at their area forums. We continued to lobby the council and the council in 2017, they funded and put in new drainage and tarmac, including on a difficult downhill area. We wanted tarmac for longevity but also horses and bikes churn up gravel and the park has numerous openings, it is not gated. So we need all-weather, durable surfaces.

We worked with other local groups, including the active travel charity, Sustrans and they visited and gave us a report. We also had a visit from Keep Britain Tidy, who arranged a Green Flag advice visit and linked us to DSSmith Recyclers, Bolton, who came out and dug with us.

 We have our paths at the top end now and lots of people with mobility problems, prams, buggies, scooters and bikes use it.

                

There are still a lot of issues to tackle - you might wonder about the park’s benches, rubbish, dog poo, finding Bolton arboretum and vandalism! Well, I’ll be talking about all the issues and more in future blogs - the next one’s on why having enough benches is important.

This blog though is about paths. We never thought it would become a passion, but it has! The council has now agreed to us getting quotes to see if we can improve the rest of the paths in the park - it’s a lot to do and we have no money, but the park is now better used than ever, by everyone. As Ramblers we would love to have decent paths along all our country roads and fields, just to be able to get out in all weathers. Fabulous!

 

If you live in Bolton and would like to get involved with the Friends, please get in touch on:

friendsoflongsightpark@hotmail.co.uk

Facebook group: Friends of Longsight Park - Bolton

Have you got a park success story to tell? Please get in touch on campaigns@ramblers.org.uk and let us know.

Download the research into walking in parks and green spaces and find out more about our Paving the Way campaign.