Hear what the people behind the projects shortlisted for the UKLA had to say about their work

Baxter Park
Baxter Park

We caught up with six of the people behind this years’ shortlisted projects for the UKLA to talk about their motivation, the challenges their projects faced and the long-lasting benefits of the landscapes they’ve helped to create.

HM: Helen Mrowiecs is the manager of the Heather and Hillforts project which aims to protect the biodiversity of North East Wales.
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EK: Eimear Kearney, marketing officer, is in charge of unlocking the tourism and recreational potential of Loch Neagh in Northern Ireland.
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CN: Coralie Niven is the Durham Heritage Coast’s projects’ officer responsible for managing the projects to keep the coastline in perfect condition for the next generation.

PB: Peter Batey is chairman of the Healthy Waterways Trust tasked with making sure the waterways of the Mersey Basin are in excellent condition.

NJ: Natalie Johnson is the campaign manager for Sheffield City Council in charge of the Gold Route project which symbolises the city’s cultural and economic renaissance.

TL: Theresa Lynn, cultural planner at Dundee City Council played a key role in giving Baxter Park back to the people.

Q: What was the motivation behind your project?

PB: The Mersey Basin Campaign was a response to the dreadful state of the rivers and other waterways in North West England in the early 1980s. Michael Heseltine, then Secretary of State for the Environment, said at the time: “…the river is an affront to the standards a civilised society should demand of its environment. Untreated sewage, pollutants, noxious discharges all contribute to water conditions and environmental standards that are perhaps the single most deplorable feature of this critical part of England.” He laid down a challenge for all of us in the public, private and voluntary sectors, to work together to change this. His view was that this was a long-term project: 25 years, from 1985.

EK: Lough Neagh has historically been under-utilised as a potential recreational and tourism facility. It has no navigation authority and prior to the regeneration programme has received little statutory or local authority investment. It also has unique environmental protection needs and historically there was little community input into addressing local needs. In 2003, a management strategy for the whole of Lough Neagh was drawn up recommending the creation of a local stakeholder-based organisation to address the economic, social and environmental needs of Lough Neagh. Lough Neagh Partnership had an innovative local solution ethos with a bottom-up community-based approach to the regeneration of the region, which certainly contributed to the success of the project.

NJ: The Gold Route project had three goals. Firstly, it was to act as a catalyst and a driver for the economic regeneration of Sheffield City Centre. It would do this by rebranding the City as a ‘European City of distinction’. Secondly it would create a linked corridor of public realm spaces as a setting for a number of key economic and cultural projects. Thirdly, the project would create a city centre for people – a place that would be enjoyed by the whole city and would restore the much damaged pride that had resulted from the economic recession of the late 1980’s in which over 20,000 jobs were lost in the steel industry.

Q. What was the biggest challenge that you had to overcome?

HM: On the Heather and Hillforts project, we faced the challenge of changing attitudes and behaviour. It is fantastic to deal with these issues by, for example, sitting at a farmer’s kitchen table as they tell you how the moorland should be managed.

PB: The biggest challenges for the Healthy Waterways Trust were technical: how can water quality be improved across the entire river basin (from the Irish Sea to the Pennines) so that fish could return to the river; and psychological: changing people’s attitudes to the river and its surroundings, so that instead of turning their backs on the river, they would regard it as an asset and something to cherish.

CN: The biggest challenge in helping the Durham Heritage Coast was one of belief – belief that there was real value in what was being undertaken, frequently expressed in the comment “dinnet bother, it’ly be wrecked in a week’; a comment not only heard from local residents but also from professionals. By investing in a local presence and participation, helped by improvement schemes that delivered and are valued locally, there is now a much wider belief that by working together real change can be made to happen. And can be seen not just in local facilities, but also in visitors and in new businesses.

EK: Geographically Lough Neagh is massive, measuring over 300sqkm and containing over 800bn gallons of water. The Lough Neagh Regeneration Programme covers the whole of Lough Neagh, its surrounding immediate shoreline and the connecting main river systems. One of the biggest challenges was working in harmony with all the stakeholders on such a large-scale project. The successful impact of the programme has been based on an innovative local solution ethos. Through regular contact, training and funding assistance, it has given additional confidence to local communities and many strong community based projects have come out of it.

TL: The biggest challenge in giving Baxter Park back to the people was to engage major stakeholders with a different way of doing things. It was important that the community should understand that this project was proposing not merely a face-lift, but a complete change of concept as to how the park worked and was run. Finance was possibly the most radical departure: a capital project, rolled out over five years, which included staffing. The approach took a lot of convincing, both of HLF and of our own officers. The glass box park centre evoked widespread scepticism, however, this changed within the first year and it came to be seen as a statement of respect and trust in the community, who took it to their hearts.

Q. What are the long-lasting benefits that you hope your project will deliver for the next generation?

EK: It is hoped that the work the Lough Neagh Partnership carried out on regenerating the Lough will have an impact on the generations to come in terms of the enhanced facilities and recreational usage of the Lough. Already the project has been instrumental in regenerating the biggest island on Lough Neagh – Ram’s Island which now receives over 10,000 visitors every year. The project has assisted the expansion and refurbishment of four marinas and seven water-based infrastructure developments providing 150 new births, new jetties and slipway facilities for boating and sailing stakeholders. The project has also funded 2 Rescue lifeboats, significantly improving health and safety on the water.

CN: Through the continued conservation and enhancement of Durham’s unique Magnesian Limestone grasslands and associated habitats the local communities have a greater understanding and appreciation of both the landscape and seascape. Local schools and communities also benefit as they continue to participate in the stewardship of the coast.

Q. How has being involved in the project enhanced your understanding of how important landscape is to you and the community?

HM: We are only a small part in the story of the landscape. It is the connection between people and the landscape that makes the Heather and Hillforts landscape special to me. It’s about how, over thousands of years people have created the semi-natural moorland plant community. It’s about the features that people have built in the landscape and how we now interpret what remains. The satisfaction of taking adults and children who have never visited the area, and sometimes are not even familiar with the countryside, out for the first time is so rewarding. Seeing their disbelief at the beauty and richness of the landscape and sharing their achievement and satisfaction of reaching the top of a hill.

 

CN: Within the Heritage Coast Partnership are a number of different organisations, community groups and individuals all with their own management aims and objectives for this coastline. Despite the different approaches they are all striving for the same result, to preserve, enhance and conserve Durham’s coastline for future generations. Communities are greatly influenced by their surrounding landscape both socially and economically. Following the mine closures, residents of the colliery villages felt abandoned. Due to this distrust it has taken considerable effort for working relationships to be recreated, but, it is these relationships that are crucial for communities to begin appreciating what the landscape can offer them and how they can work with the organisations and groups involved to increase the benefits for all.

NJ: Being involved in the project has deepened our understanding of the role that landscape can have as an expression of cultural identity and civic pride. People like to feel that their public realm expresses the values, strengths and local distinctiveness of their area. They are suspicious of city planning which creates bland ‘nowhere places’ to a conformist international style. They also respond well to places that are fully inclusive and create spaces that can be used by all ages, social, ethnic and economic backgrounds. We are also more convinced than ever of the importance that people place on green space and beauty in their day to day lives.

PB: I chaired the Campaign for its last six years, before it ended in March 2010, after 25 years. My personal involvement goes back as far as 1991. As a young person, I grew up living next to the dirty rivers in the north west and the poor environment this was part of. I relished the opportunity the Campaign presented to do something about it. I am very proud of what we have achieved in improving the region’s landscape and determined to see the standards maintained and enhanced still further.

TL: The project arose out of our belief in the value of communities’ engagement with the evolution of high-quality landscape. It has allowed us to put processes into practice that demonstrate this on a large scale and that feed into an ongoing strategy within the park, besides rolling out these approaches across the city. Our experiences allowed us to further explore and refine the methodology and have deepened our faith in the ability of people to engage with landscape.

The immediate experience gained from this project has been twofold and complementary. We learned that involvement with community directly and powerfully informs landscape development, while involvement with high quality landscape enhances people’s physical and mental wellbeing, sense of ownership, and development of skill and good judgement which only contribute more and more to the partnership over time. The biggest satisfaction has been to observe how much of people’s lives are intertwined with their local environment. The park has become a physical, integral part of their day-to-day life.

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