Horticulture Week Custodian Award - Best Parks Restoration or Development Project

Winner - Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council for Mary Stevens Park HLF Project

Dudley MBC / Community First Partnership (CFP), Heath Lane, Stourbridge, Dudley, West Mids DY8 2AA

Recognising the importance of sustaining and enhancing Mary Stevens Park as a valuable historic and community space, Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council submitted a Stage 1 Parks for People application in August 2010, successfully achieving a Stage 2 grant award in December 2013.

The £3.1 million restoration project took place between 2013 and 2017, was delivered on time and in budget and increased both visitor numbers and satisfaction ratings.

Areas repaired included the Grade II-listed main entrance gates, stone pillars and bronze lanterns, the bandstand, which now hosts a range of performances, the formal tea garden terrace and the Grade II-listed war memorial and its surrounds, which were made more accessible, especially for veterans in wheelchairs.

The project created a community orchard, wildflower meadow, dredged the historic Heath Pool, reconstructed islands for visiting wildfowl and established marginal planting. It is now well-populated with wildlife. New interpretation panels and artwork were added. Other improvements included a new coffee lounge, bowls and croquet green, new ball courts and refurbished facilities.

A comprehensive activity programme encouraged wider participation in physical activity, training and volunteer activities and included sporting activities, Forest School, treasure hunts, toddler sessions and ranger club, as well as an increase in the number of apprenticeships and work placements, work experience and volunteer opportunities for the long-term unemployed.

The project employed a heritage ranger to lead on community engagement and coordinate volunteer activities, and 77 people volunteered their time to the project outdoing the target of 24 volunteers, putting in 2,679.5 hours of work.

The Friends of Mary Stevens Park were also heavily involved, researching the park history, designing and delivering events and undertaking practical conservation and horticulture work as well as working with the Heritage Ranger to increase volunteering opportunities. Together they wrote a book Beauty for Everyone - The Story of Mary Stevens Park which has been popular with visitors.

Visitors to Mary Stevens Park have increased from 974,951 in 2012 to 1.4 million in 2017 - 42% over five years. A 2016 survey gave the site a quality rating of 8.2 / 10 and visitor satisfaction is the highest ever at 95.5%, exceeding the project target of 95%, 95.3% of visitors saying they felt safe in the park, increasing from only 91.6% in 2014. The park has a 94% good or excellent rating on Tripadvisor. The project was successful with regard to its key outcomes and objectives identified in the Stage 2 bid.

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