#80: November 2013 marks the 20th anniversary of the Friends of Belair Park.

Many thanks to everyone who has supported our cause.
You can congratulate yourselves on a job well done.

oak branch silhouette

The Friends began by successfully opposing attempts to sell the Park or to smother it with unsuitable developments.

Since 2010, however, we have been working in constructive partnership with the London Borough of Southwark, which has supported us in creating and maintaining hedgerows, islands in the lake, a Wildlife Walk and wetland area. When a visitor enters Belair Park today, they can enjoy an environment that owes much to the work of the Friends.

Eight decades ago . . .
As we reach our 20th anniversary, we look back further in time, to the days when the mansion house was a private home overlooking farmland.

Mansion House. Belair Park, London, UK. Jan. 2, 2012.

Here, a local resident recalls a childhood visit to Belair around the year 1931.

“I went at that time to Dulwich High School, which stood at the junction of
Thurlow Park Road and Lancaster Avenue, which Rosemead School now
occupies. Sir Evan Spicer lived in the house in Gallery Road and the grounds of what is now Belair Park belonged to the house.

I believe that Sir Evan had a daughter who attended the school at one time
and it was his habit to invite one class from the school to a picnic tea in the
grounds at haymaking time.

I remember that we walked in a crocodile form from the school and were
met at the gates by a gentleman dressed in gaiters, as countrymen were at
that time, and to a small child, as I was then, he looked like the King (George
V). He greeted us with the words “Good afternoon young ladies. I expect you would like to see the animals first.” (A very wise assumption!) I remember there were pigs, chickens running around and horses in the stables.

After visiting that part of the grounds, we were taken to the hay meadows,
which were on the far side of the Lake by the railway line. We tumbled about in the hay to our hearts’ content and then were given a picnic tea.

The only other memory of this day is that my sister, four years older, was
very cross because her class had never been invited.”

Eileen Thorn

The Belair Project 2010 – 2013.
November 2013 brings to completion a distinctive phase of our work in Belair Park.

Since their formation in 1993, the Friends have encouraged the release of hundreds of thousands of pounds to improve the Park. Volunteers have created a Lakeside Wildlife Walk and (in conjunction with Angela Wilkes of the Dulwich Society), hedgerows along the northern and western margins of the Park, as part of a long-term programme to augment local wildlife corridors across the landscape.

In the period 2010 to 2013, the Friends worked closely with the London
Borough of Southwark to enhance ecology and amenity in the Park. The
process was co-ordinated by our Chair, Dr. Martin Heath, who facilitated
an inclusive community engagement.

Park users owe a debt to Vinnie O’Connell, founder of New Leaf and a valued member of our Committee. New Leaf began life as charity involved in the rehabilitation of young offenders, by involving them in the constructive work of creating a botanical garden (illustrating the evolution of flowering plants) beside West Dulwich station. Many of them assisted our work in Belair Park. New Leaf also set up Orange RockCorp events in Belair Park. Young volunteers received free concert tickets in exchange for donating labour on the Wildlife Walk. A high point was when Mark Ronson, the celebrity DJ, record producer and musician, endorsed our project on prime time TV. Public involvement in wildlife surveys was promoted through the Open Air Laboratories project.

Two of our Committee members Anne-Marie Braun and Matt Reid conducted a survey of playground users and worked with Southwark to select much needed new equipment for smaller children.

Amongst Southwark officers to whom we are indebted for their unfailing assistance are Rebecca Towers, Southwark’s parks and open spaces manager, Dulwich area parks managers Paul Highman and Robert Roach,
and Cleaner Greener, Safer team members Andrea Allen, Nils Battye, Pippa Krishnan and Andy Newman.

Ecology Officer Jon Best provided essential input and organised corporate workdays to improve the lake environment. Volunteers from Deloitte and Ernst & Young made a significant contribution to the management of the lakeside, as did workers from Embrace Cooperation.

Following a suggestion by Alastair Hanton of the Dulwich Society, we staged a public consultation about ideas for an ornamental arch for the West Dulwich entrance to the Park, and this was designed by respected local artist Heather Burrell.

The three year project has been documented in 80 newsletters, which are now archived on the new website belairpark.org.uk being created for us by Nadia Mahmud-Salvisberg.

In summer 2013, our effort culminated successfully when Belair Park received the Green Flag award.

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