Park partnership reaps regeneration benefits (22nd February 2007)
QWAG's river restoration scheme became a catalyst for the total regeneration of Chinbrook Meadows.
The River Quaggy, in its natural state, is a huge community asset much appreciated by local people. That's the findings of recently published research* carried out by the University of the West of England for the Environment Agency. Also noted are numerous community benefits that result from forming partnerships with other organisations.
The Quaggy in Chinbrook Meadows - restored by the Agency in 2002 - was one of three of its environmental projects studied in detail. In an October 2005 survey, 80 park users (40 men and 40 women, from different age groups) expressed their views. Almost all had lived in the vicinity for at least three years and could remember the Quaggy as it was before - constrained by a straight concrete channel, isolated from the park by railings and hedges.
No less than 89% of those surveyed felt the river restoration had improved the park. A range of reasons were offered, from improved aesthetic value and added interest, to wildlife and attractiveness to children. When asked what was liked best about the park, the sense of space resulting from the removal of the railings and hedges around the canalised river, topped the list of answers.
Did the river restoration encourage more people to visit? A large majority thought so. And the evidence suggests that the opening up of the river has helped improve the safety of the park and general behaviour. Respondents thought littering, graffiti and dog fouling had all been reduced and reported less anti-social behaviour and fewer personal safety concerns.
Health benefits, both physical and mental, are referred to. Walking, with and without dogs, is a major use of the park. Proximity to a natural and scenic environment is important, especially where local communities have fewer opportunities, time and money to travel outside their local urban area.
In virtually all cases, respondents stated that seeing wildlife played a very important or quite important role in creating peaceful and relaxing surroundings. Children play in the river, and herons, meadow flowers and the openness of the site offer walkers a varied environment. Educational experiences for the local community - formal and informal - was another asset.
Right: Children go dipping for mini-beasts in the Quaggy last year, at an event organised by the Friends of Chinbrook Meadows. An educational experience for the children that's also a lot of fun for all involved.
The study draws attention to the benefits of forming working partnerships. At Chinbrook Meadows, the Agency worked with Lewisham Council, Glendales Grounds Management, the local park users group, and of course QWAG, who back in 1995, first suggested the scheme and initially brought the partnership together. Consequently, river restoration became a catalyst for total park regeneration - new sports facilities, better lighting, and the introduction of wardens. Result - a multi-use urban green space appealing to a wide range of local people and interests.
* Delivering regeneration through environmental improvement. The Environment Agency, 2006.
The photo marked ©FoCM is Copyright Friends of Chinbrook Meadows and is reproduced with their kind permission.