Among them are Hirst Park in Ashington, Northumberland, where former England players Sir Bobby Charlton and Jack Charlton OBE and Newcastle United player Jackie Milburn first began training. The park has gained support from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and Big Lottery Fund (BIG) for a £2.3m project which will see its currently underused football pitches restored and its footballing heritage revived.
Sir Bobby welcomed the news, saying: "Hirst Park is as necessary and valuable to the youth of today as it was for me. Thanks to the generosity of the National Lottery may it continue to flourish for the benefit of the community."
Jack Charlton was spotted playing at Hirst Park by scouts from Leeds United. He said: "The football pitches where we played were created on the ash tip from the colliery and these were our first training grounds – our very own Wembley.
"The park was a precious place where me and Bobby learned our craft, training and playing for fun, before going on to join Leeds and Manchester United and then playing in the world-cup winning England side in 1966. Hirst Park made it all possible for us and we would play all day if we could… and we often did."
The Hirst Park funding will also establish an annual Charlton and Milburn Cup tournament for local youth groups to follow in their footsteps. A new horticultural training centre, water splash zone and facility for charities. A growing zone including beekeeping and therapeutic gardening will provide valuable wellbeing activities and contribute to the long-term maintenance of the park.
Also included in the funding are two of London's Magnificent Seven cemeteries, including Brompton Cemetery where Emmeline Pankhurst is buried; the historic Grade II* Sheffield General Cemetery; and the spectacular hillside public park of Rivington Terraced Gardens in Lancashire, the former home of Lord Leverhulme which has views over north Wales and the Lake District.
These projects will conserve fragile historic buildings and monuments, enhance wildlife habitats and help people to make the most of these historic landscapes.
Altogether 157ha of public land will be restored and improved for communities and wildlife. Twenty-two structures on English Heritage's At Risk register will undergo much-needed repairs, and 26 fulltime jobs will be created, as well as opportunities provided for thousands of volunteers and trainees.
HLF chair Sir Peter Luff said: "Our parks are where we play some of our first games, where we make some of our first discoveries and where some of us take our first steps to stardom. However we use them, parks are an important part of life, which is why we're delighted to be investing National Lottery players' money in parks and cemeteries from Bristol to Helensburgh to carry out vital regeneration and create some wonderful opportunities for communities and wildlife."
Sports and heritage minister Tracey Crouch said: "Having outdoor space to explore and play sport in is vital to every community. The investment from HLF and BIG in Hirst Park and others across the country will restore them for local people to enjoy, and make a real difference by helping nurture our future sports stars."
HLF and BIG joint grants in England
Hirst Park, Ashington - £2,389,200, including development grant of £139,300
Rectory Lane Cemetery, Berkhamsted - £952,200, including development grant of £73,600
Sheffield General Cemetery Park, Sheffield - £3,528,000, including development grant of £429,600
South Metropolitan (West Norwood) Cemetery, London - £4,845,800, including development grant of £241,000
Staunton Country Park, Havant - £2,972,700, including development grant of £122,700
Brompton Cemetery, London - £3,934,400
Page Park, South Gloucestershire - £1,627,200
Pump Room Gardens, Leamington Spa - £995,600
Rhyddings Park, Oswaldtwistle - £1,389,300
Rivington Terraced Gardens, Chorley - £3,414,100
HLF-only funded grants in Scotland
Hermitage Park, Helensburgh - £2,333,300
Saughton Park, Edinburgh - £3,799,100