THE seeds of recovery sown by parkie Gary Plant and his ranks of helpers bore fruit yesterday when an inner-city park scooped a national award.
Walker Park in Newcastle’s East End was awarded a Green Flag – given to the country’s best parks – for the first time under a scheme managed by the Civic Trust for the Department of Communities and Local Government.
Gary, one of the first of the park keepers to be reintroduced by the city council, has worked at Walker Park for 18 years and has experienced the low points as it suffered from anti-social problems.
But yesterday’s award was a definite high and Gary said: “After 18 years and everything I have gone through, I am absolutely over the moon, and so excited.”
He said one of the turning points for the park was a brutal attack in April last year.
Iranian asylum seeker Yasin Ahmed was cycling through Walker Park when six teenagers beat him to pulp and left him for dead.
The 45-year-old victim had every bone in his face broken, suffered a fractured skull and four broken ribs, and was left fighting for life.
At Newcastle Crown Court earlier this year his attackers were jailed for 28 years.
Gary, who works with fellow parkie Michael Watts, said: “The attack could have happened anywhere, but it was a turning point because people got together and said let’s get something done and get this park sorted out.”
The city council, parks department staff and bowls club, police, and the local community organisations in the neighbourhood such as the YMCA John Boste youth club and Kids Kabin combined to make the 1883 park a safer and more attractive spot.
Clear sight-lines through the park were opened up and three CCTV cameras set up. Horticultural improvements were carried out and the council’s rapid response team and police were primed to react quickly to any problems.
Park manager Seamus Tollitt worked in the community to encourage more use of the park and events such as a community festival and last week’s World in Walker saw hundreds of local children representing different countries in a parade.
Gary said: “After I started work at the park, society seemed to change. Youngsters became a problem, damage was caused. There were problems of drugs, drink and abuse.
“But then everybody got together. People now feel a lot safer and the park has totally changed.”
Council recreation development officer Amanda Watson said: “After all the publicity over the horrendous attack, we decided something had to be done.
“A really strong network of people and agencies worked to make the park a better and safer place and we are now absolutely delighted at the award.”
Shock demotion for city favourite
BRANDLING Park in Jesmond, Newcastle, joined Walker Park as a first-time Green Flag winner.
But there was surprise and disappointment as Leazes Park lost the Green Flag it has flown for the last three years.
Leazes was the first purpose-built park in Newcastle in 1873.
It was restored with £4.9m in Heritage Lottery Find cash and hosts the annual Newcastle Green Community Festival.
The city council will have to wait a few days to find out from the judges exactly why it has been demoted.
A council spokesman said: “We have invested a considerable amount of money in the park, which continues to be extremely popular with the people of Newcastle and visitors to the city.
“We look forward to receiving the judges’ recommendations – we feel sure we will be able to address any issues they might raise.”
There is a feeling that the park has become so popular that it may have been a victim of its own success, with more visitors generating problems such as litter.
Green Flags also went to Benwell Nature Park, Gosforth Central Park, Nunsmoor Park and Paddy Freeman’s Park.
North is a third up on last year
A TOTAL of 31 parks in the North-East won green Flags yesterday – 10 more than last year.
In Gateshead, Derwent Walk Country Park and Derwenthaugh Park won for the first time.
Saltwell Park retained its flag and Bill Quay Community Farm took the Green Pennant.
Derwenthaugh Park was Derwenthaugh Coke Works until 1986, and Derwent Walk Country Park the Derwent Valley Railway until 1962.
Saltwell Park opened in 1867 and from 2000 to 2005, £6.7m from the Heritage Lottery Fund and £3m from Gateshead Council was spent restoring it.
Council communities and culture cabinet member David Napier said: “Saltwell Park, Derwent Walk Country Park and Derwenthaugh Park are important in the local community, not only for their transformation in recent years. but for enabling and encouraging a better understanding of our environment.”
The Rising Sun Country Park in North Tyneside won a Green Flag for a third successive year.
Other winners in the North are: Roker Park, Mowbray Park, Herrington Country Park, and Rainton Meadows in Sunderland; Hexham Parks; Carlisle Park, Morpeth; Chester-le-Street Riverside; Coxhoe Park, Durham; Bishop Middleham Community Wildlife Site and Horden Welfare Park, County Durham; Blackhill and Consett Park, Derwentside; South Park, Darlington; Albert Park, Hemlington Lake, Pallister Park and Stewart Park in Middlesbrough;
Redcar & Cleveland’s Guisborough Forest & Walkway and Saltburn Valley; Stockton’s Billingham Beck Valley, Cowpen Bewley Woodland Park, Ropner Park and Wynyard Woodland Park.