THE poet Robert Burns is set for a comeback as part of the £1.8m makeover for an inner-city park.
Walker Park in Newcastle, which was opened in 1891, has been awarded the cash by the Heritage Lottery Fund.
Among projects lined up to improve the park is the restoration and return of a statue of Burns.
It was originally put up in the park in 1901 by the Tyneside Burns Club, most of whose members were Scots who had moved to the Walker area to work in the local shipyards and other heavy industries.
The statue was erected to commemorate the visit by Burns to Newcastle in 1787.
By the mid-1970s, the statue was suffering from vandalism. It was repaired and moved to Heaton Park, only to suffer further damage, ending with the cast-iron figure being broken into pieces.
It was then taken away into storage at a council depot.
The park is home to a war memorial to the 5th Northumberland Fusiliers and a Winged Victory memorial opposite the park in Scrogg Road.
With the Robert Burns statue, they form the largest concentration of monuments in Newcastle outside the city centre.
There is a procession through the park between the monuments on Remembrance Sunday each year.
Robert Burns will be reinstated along a restored Memorial Way, which will provide an attractive setting for the monuments and an enhanced pedestrian route through the park.
The park, which is surrounded by housing, is an important green space in its own right and also provides a thoroughfare to Walker Centre and the Church Walk shopping centre.
“As many of the old buildings of Victorian Walker were demolished to make way for new developments such as the Church Walk Centre and industry during the 20th century, Christ Church and the park itself remain as rare, important heritage sites in the area,” said a city council spokesman.
The park was remodelled in 1988 and reopened by Labour leader Neil Kinnock.
The new works will include a multi-use games area, under-12s football pitch, sensory garden, Park Centre with cafe and toilets and the development of a community sculpture project which has already produced three carved sandstone boulders.
The park, which holds the Green Flag award, is especially important in an area where, according to census statistics, almost a third of residents have long-term health issues.
There are a number of annual organised events such as Walker Community Festival, a fireworks event which attracts 12,000 people, carol services and summer school.
“Historically, Walker Park provided relief for the working population of shipbuilders and miners in a heavily industrialized part of the city,” said the council spokesman.
“Today, the park is one of the few quality green spaces in a built-up area that has seen a major decline in the traditional industries.
“The importance of the park is as great today as it was 100 years ago, providing the community with a sense of continuity and hope for the future.
“There is a huge groundswell at present for additional land in the city to grow food and, as part of the park project, a small community orchard is proposed.”
Local councillor Dave Wood said: “As a child, I remember the Burns statue. It is 25 years since the park’s refurbishment and it needs refreshing.”
Another Walker ward councillor, John Stokel-Walker, said: “The grant award is fabulous news. The park is a great venue.”