Oases in the City

PUBLISHED: 17:12 21 July 2011 | UPDATED: 19:44 20 February 2013

PHOTO: The Holburne Museum/Chris Cardwell

PHOTO: The Holburne Museum/Chris Cardwell

Sarah Ford explores the much admired historic parks in Bath and discovers how we can all enjoy them today

Sarah Ford explores the much admired historic parks in Bath and discovers how we can all enjoy them today

The variety of beautiful parks in the city of Bath range from grand Royal Victoria Park, opened by the 11-year-old Princess Victoria herself in 1830, to historic Sydney Gardens, visited regularly by Jane Austen and now home to the Holburne Museum of Arts striking modern glass extension.
Bath and North East Somerset Council (B&NES) looks after nine formal parks and they have received many accolades. With their childrens play areas, wide open spaces and glorious flower displays, they are a popular attraction for local residents and visitors. And some are fortunate to live close enough to visit on a regular basis.

I think that we who live around Henrietta Park feel very privileged, says Alan Bell, secretary of the local residents association. It is a lovely little park with a special feel to it very close to the heart of the city and it gives our community its sense of place.

Other users of this seven-acre site include the children from the Mews Nursery and Playclub where the Manager is Sally Evans. If we want to take out large groups it is nice to have this wide open space and we are lucky to be on the doorstep.

Meanwhile, residents local to the 11-acre Alexandra Park in Shakespeare Avenue have joined a forum to look at issues relating to the park. Members also include the City of Bath Petanque Club, who play in the park on a Monday evening. (www.bathpetanque.moonfruit.com)

Iva Carrdus had often walked past the park near her home and thought it would be nice to grow vegetables in one of the beds. B&NES agreed with her suggestion and this summer volunteers from Transition Bath a charity which aims to make the city more sustainable got to work in Hedgemead Park. Over six days the team created a community garden known as Vegmead.

We have been careful to design it like a flower bed, says Iva. It has been a fantastic community effort and has attracted young people who want to learn how to grow vegetables. (www.transitionbath.org)
Over on the eastern fringes of Bath is the delightful Alice Park, home to the popular Alice Park Caf run by Tony Hickman and Russ Crook. (www.alicepark.co.uk)
There is a fantastic vibe here. We run lots of music and family-based events and we helped create the community garden, says Tony. We have a sponsored sleep-out which raises money for Julian House for
the homeless.

Alice Park is also a popular venue with Jo Milford and her sister Amy who run the Funky Art House workshops for children and adults (www.funkyarthouse.co.uk). The park is an unknown gem, says artist and qualified teacher Jo. Children can run around, which is good for those who are arty but not necessarily sporty as they can get active without knowing it! The other park we use is the Botanical Garden in the Royal Victoria Park. This is quite landscaped and so is a magical setting, which helps with our themes.

Royal Victoria Park was one of the earliest public parks in the country and in recent years has undergone a programme of award-winning restoration work. This included replacing lost Victorian landscaping and repairing the leaking lake. With help from Heritage Lottery funding, B&NES replaced the imposing entrance gates and railings lost for the Second World War efforts, restored the bandstand and rare Coade stone lions at Queens Parade entrance, together with creating the Interpretation Centre in the Botanical Gardens.

Glenn Humphreys, Senior Horticultural Manager for B&NES Parks & Green Spaces, explains: B&NES wanted to develop the education and community potential of the gardens and utilised the existing Temple of Minerva, an open-fronted structure originally built to promote Bath at the Wembley exhibition in 1924. Exposed to the elements and antisocial behaviour, it was slowly subsiding and the roof needed major repairs. Opened in July 2009, the Interpretation Centre is probably the most energy-efficient historic building in Bath. Popular with local schools and gardening courses, the building recently hosted its first wedding reception, which was a great success.

Following their wedding reception, Rebecca and Jennifer Lemen-Hogarth said: When we saw the venue we fell in love with it straight away! The gardens are beautiful and the IC is a small, but perfectly formed venue. (For information about bookings contact 01225 396386.)
The nine-acre Botanical Gardens in Royal Victoria Park are a firm favourite with locals and a successful Friends group meet regularly (01225 396906). One of B&NES parks which has consistently won the highest category Green Flag Award at a national level, RVP is a popular band concert venue and the Bath Spa Band will be performing here on 14 August at 3pm. Another popular venue for band concerts is the Parade Gardens overlooking the River Avon.

But playing outside, even under the cover of a bandstand, can have its moments, according to secretary of the Bath Spa Band Phil Williams. Music has blown away and music stands have fallen over. But we are very lucky to have these parks with bandstands in them and its nice to play to the audiences who clap along to the music. Its a traditional British summer afternoon to listen to a band in the park and enjoy a cream tea.

For more details about parks in Bath go to www.bathnes.gov.uk

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