Maes Gwenfrewi is a former bowling green in Aberystwyth town, which was taken over by the town council a few years ago. The green turf could not withstand the wear and tear from heavy use, so a rope maze was installed. While it was well intentioned, the reality was that the rope maze wasn’t popular with local people and its upkeep soon became problematic.
We knew that the park had potential to be a real hub for the community, so we applied for – and were awarded with - a £215,000 Challenge for Nature grant to transform the area into a biodiverse town centre park. It has been a six-month project with work due to be completed by the end of March. It’s particularly exciting because we are planting at least 30 new trees, introducing wildflower meadows, and providing spaces for community food growing. We are also improving access to the park, installing new fencing and gates which can be locked if required (to negate anti-social behaviour), and an area that can serve as an informal amphitheatre which can be used for seasonal performances or meetings.
Our vision is that the space becomes a haven for wildlife and becomes a much-loved park, used by all members of the community, and hopefully we will soon see children playing there, organisations holding outdoor meetings, and community groups growing organic produce.
We were able to make our idea a reality thanks to a full ‘Challenge For Nature’ grant, which has enabled us to achieve in one year that which would have taken several years. If you’re doing a grant application, make sure you plan everything out well in advance as it will really help you formulate a strong bid.
We’ve designed the park around what we know the community wants, so doing a little research in advance is crucial. We noted the problems we encountered in the park, such as dog damage and anti-social behaviour, and tried to design them out with robust infrastructure and raised beds. It is important to listen to what local people have to say and work together.
Manage expectations – when you ask a community for input, you’re going to get a lot of feedback and as great as that is, the likelihood is that you won’t be able to achieve what everyone wants. With that in mind, it’s important to manage expectations by communicating what you can and can’t do. As much as you’d like to, you can’t please everyone, so be prepared for that – and the fact that some people just don’t like change.
You should also offset problems from the outset. For us, that’s been about making sure the park can’t be a magnet for anti-social behaviour or littering. Through the new design, we’ve done our best to offset these potential issues.
Lastly, be prepared to wait. Everything takes longer than you imagine, and that’s often because the suppliers you want to work with aren’t available straight away. Allow for this in your planning so that you’re not disappointed by the speed of your progress.