Why the exciting revival of Berry Hill Park is music to Mansfield's ears
Parklife, according to one of the defining hits of the 1990s Britpop era, is about all the people, so many people, going hand in hand.
But Berry Hill Parklife in Mansfield was nothing of the sort. More a case of not so many people.
Fewer and fewer visitors were going hand in hand. Even the blue and green of Mansfield Harriers no longer graced the athletics track, sent packing elsewhere after 54 years.
The 62-acre park, despite its grassland and woodland, its lake, its wildlife, its cafe, its bandstand and its playground, was a pale shadow of its former self. Paying the price for years of neglect.
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Its strong links to the mining industry were now tenuous. Those miners’ galas were but a distant memory. The park’s trustees even threatened closure, complaining they could no longer afford to maintain it.
Protests and petitions followed. Something had to be done – and that something is now blossoming into a veritable transformation.
In 2019, Mansfield District Council agreed to save the iconic park by becoming corporate trustees.
Last year, the council received almost £3 million from the Towns Fund, as part of the government’s much-trumpeted levelling-up agenda, to go towards a total revamp of the site.
And this winter, the wheels are positively in motion, with the unveiling of a masterplan after hundreds of locals had put forward their ideas in an online survey.
The vision is to turn Berry Hill into a ’destination park’. Not just one you might visit to take the dog for a walk or to grab a quick cuppa at the cafe after shopping. But a true destination where the whole family could spend the day.
The scheme includes a dedicated space for public events, a new community building, new and improved footpaths and trails to enhance the natural biodiversity of the area, a community orchard, more seating, new toilets, a cafe, art installations and better play areas for children.
The car park, described by users as “woefully insufficient” and “in a horrendous state of repair”, will be improved at last.
A team of architects has drawn up plans, complete with artists’ impressions of what Berry Hill might look like.
An exhibition is currently on display at the park, and more feedback will be sought from the public before the plans rise to fruition.
Tellingly, Mansfield Harriers are back, generating investment in the athletics facilities and working hand in hand with the council and organisations such as the Friends of Berry Hill Park.
The club’s chairman, Pat Carlan, exudes optimism. He says: “It’s going really well. And people have noticed that things are happening.
"The park became very rundown, but now it feels as if things are on the up. Even the small improvements that the council has made have been noticed and appreciated by the general public."
Harriers’ return to Berry Hill Park has given a boost to the club’s membership, which now stands at about 280. And the park’s forte as a cross-country running circuit has been strengthened by the staging of national, regional and county championships.
"The athletics facilities won’t change too much, but I would like to see a new, multi-purpose building on the footprint of our old, wooden clubhouse, which was demolished.
"It is a prime site for a building that could be used by schools and organisations for community projects.
"The ideal scenario would be for it to have a sloping roof that could be used as a spectator stand overlooking the athletics track.
"I am confident we will be able to work out what is best, not just for Harriers but also for the whole community. Different people have different views but, hopefully, we can all work together.
"Anything that develops the park has got to be great. It is a gem of a park.”
And so say all of us, would be the response to that from the Friends of Berry Hill Park, an organisation set up in 2007 to protect the park from the claws of housing developers and now overflowing with ideas and initiatives.
Sue Fretwell, a tireless member of the management committee, explained how the emphasis is on the environmental impact of the park.
"For instance, we are building an apiary for beehives,” says Sue. “The idea is that the honey will be sold in the cafe and 50 per cent of the profits will be ploughed back into the park
“We have also created a community orchard. The first 100 fruit trees were planted there last summer, and once they are mature, we want to encourage local people to come and pick the fruit.
"A further 1,600 saplings will be added at the end of March to form an ‘edible hedge’ for wildlife, such as birds, bees, squirrels and hedgehogs.
"The orchard has been registered with the BBC TV programme ‘Countryfile’ as part of the Queen’s Green Canopy tree-planting initiative for her Platinum Jubilee.”
The Friends are also keen to spark lifelong interest in the park among the next generation. Berry Hill Primary School ran a competition to design a sign for the orchard, Mansfield Scouts will help to plant the saplings, and West Nottinghamshire College would like to design boxes for owls and hedgehogs.
More organisations have helped out, with the Mansfield-based Inspire and Achieve Foundation and the Prince’s Trust helping to clear paths and woodland.
And another admirable initiative, inspired by the Friends, has been to install benches with ‘Happy To Chat’ signs on them where elderly or lonely people can sit in the hope of finding someone to talk to.
"It’s amazing how we are starting to pull the park back to how it used to be,” says Sue.
"People are starting to prick their ears and to say they will help with things like litter-picks.
"So many people are looking forward to Berry Hill Park becoming better.”
Did Sue say ‘so many people’? Play that tune again, Blur.