Horticulture Week Custodian Award - Best Parks Restoration/Development Project

Winner - Watford Borough Council

Image credit: ┬ęSimon Jacobs
Image credit: ┬ęSimon Jacobs

Aims & Objectives

In 2011, Watford Council submitted a pre-application to the Heritage Lottery Fund for the proposed restoration of Cassiobury Park in Watford. One of the country’s most popular parks with over 2.15 million visits a year, the park was once the last vestiges of the ancient seat of the Earls of Essex and the former Cassiobury House, demolished in the 1920s. Cassiobury was now a popular public park with introductions over the years that were popular and well used including Croquet lawns, bowling greens, tennis courts, an Edwardian bandstand, tea pavilion and paddling pools.

Over the years, time had taken its toll and the bandstand had disappeared, relocated outside the Town Hall and in poor condition, the tea pavilion was looking scruffy and tired, the paddling pool replaced by newer pools, now leaking badly and with out of character huts and the landscape, although mature, was severely compromised with ad hoc management functions. Despite these common issues, the park was Grade 2 on the EH Register and very popular with local people and had a 250 strong membership of the Friends of Cassiobury Park.

The proposed restorations aims and objectives were simple – the long term restoration of this important landscape, ensuring its long term popularity for future generations and specifically the opportunity to join up a number of management functions in relation to the former estate parkland, local nature reserve, SSSI and the leisure features within.

Planning & Execution

The planning and execution of this very large project took six years in the planning and delivery. With a two-stage application, appointment of LDA Design and subsequently LUC, an award of £5 million was granted – the largest award for a parks project ever in the Eastern Region. The number of stakeholders involved was phenomenal and with a full time dedicated project officer for 4 years, the outcome has been a huge success.

Central to the whole restoration was the creation of a new park hub that would centralise all aspects of management functions with a full time dedicated management team in the park. This was to include a Park Manager and Education and Community Officer – now fully in post. The hub was a new-build project and was deemed high risk by HLF who preferred to allocate a larger percentage of funding to restoration rather than new-build. However, with the bid and scheme proposing the wider success of the parks restoration being reliant on the creation of this new hub, HLF were happy to grant the award and guarantee the wider £6.6 million restoration of Cassiobury Park. At the same time, the more historic aspects of the park had to be considered including reinstating lost features in the park such as the bandstand, drinking fountain and the lost 18th century Lime Avenue.

Innovation & Creativity

At the heart of the scheme has been innovation and creativity, from ensuring that the new hub became part of the landscape rather than placed on it, the main aim was to ensure it looked good at all angles. Artist impressions were created to ensure park users understood the impact of the building and that the popular paddling pools were retained and enhanced. Sustainability was at the heart of the scheme and this included energy usage and full day to day cost recovery. The building has a solar roof, re-harvests all its rainwater for use in the toilets and ensures that the paddling pools water usage is entirely recycled. Cost recovery is being achieved through new lease arrangements, event management and fees and charges for a range of activities. A partnership with the Council’s Leisure Centre provider has ensured that the pools complex is managed efficiently and effectively and in a compliant and safe way.

Outcomes

The benefits and outcomes here have been significant. The introduction of the Cassiobury Park Hub was central to this intention, bringing together management functions, creating a central destination point in this immense park, as well as providing public facing facilities such as a café, changing rooms, paddling pools, education and community rooms / facilities. It also gave the opportunity for people to learn more about the park and to explore the wider landscape.

Park users and the 300 strong Friends of Cassiobury Park were keen to have an iconic building but in keeping with the park, that reflected and appreciated the landscape, met customer expectations and was long term a sustainable building that was fit for purpose to be managed by the client and had a significant multi - functional purpose. On all counts this has been met.

The building was designed with materials carefully considered, taking into account the parkland landscape, with colour, texture, reflection and energy consumption considered. The social, cultural and health and well-being benefits that such an incredibly well designed building have brought to Cassiobury Park and the Watford Community are significant – from the many schools that visit, to regular and new park users, and especially those visitors with significant disabilities who can now access a multi - functional building that caters for all their needs.

With over 2 million + visitors annually to the park, the new Hub is central to all activity to Cassiobury Park and provides that centralised management function. The paddling pools were buzzing last summer with hundreds enjoying the new facilities. The bandstand on its return to the park has been incredibly busy with Jazz, Brass, Ska, Jive and Swing all popular. It is even used for Saturday morning Yoga sessions.

The landscape has been fully restored and this includes the setting of The Cha Tea Pavilion with the return of the long lost drinking fountain, very popular with the Saturday Park runners and not forgetting the restoration of the lost Lime Avenue, one of the most impressive parts of the 18th century landscape. There is absolutely something for everyone in Cassiobury – it has been transformed yet pays full respect to it history and the legacy left by the long lost Earls of Essex.

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