How the local community saved Ford Park in Ulverston

Ford Park chief executive Alison Alger with volunteer co-ordinator Cat Moffat

Ford Park chief executive Alison Alger with volunteer co-ordinator Cat Moffat - Credit: Archant

Ulverston’s Ford Park is really motoring since a deal was struck to secure its long term future. Paul Mackenzie reports

Volunteer Dave Pearson in the Ford Park greenhouse

Volunteer Dave Pearson in the Ford Park greenhouse - Credit: Archant

Ford Park has had a long and varied past and now the community group which owns the park can look forward to its future with confidence. Had an agreement not been reached to sell a part of the park for housing, the entire park might have had to be sold and lost to the community.

The house at the centre of the park was built in the mid-19th century and was home to landowners and businessmen before passing to Ulverston Urban District Council in the 1930s. Since then it has been used by the Ministry of Defence to house American servicemen and as a school before its doors were locked and windows boarded up in the late 1990s.

When the county council announced they were planning to sell the park, a community group was formed which took on the running of the park on a 30 year lease. Ten years ago they took out a mortgage to buy the park and have been developing the site bit-by-bit ever since.

But earlier this year, faced with debts of around £750,000, the group needed to raise money. Chief executive Alison Alger said: ‘The original business plan involved selling the house but the only offer we received was well below the asking price. We have now sold off a part of the park to a developer who will build eight houses and we will receive some money when they are sold.

‘If the sale of the land for housing hadn’t gone through we would have had to sell the whole park. There were times when I didn’t think it would happen. It was on a knife edge for some time but with the continued support of the community we can now move forward.

‘This is not just a park, it’s so much more than that. It’s not just a green space, it’s a place that means a lot to people and there has been support from the local community to selling a section of the park.

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‘People have a real connection with the park and they realise that the loss of small part is worth it in order to secure the future of the majority of the park. It was a real challenge for two years but now we can start to look to the future.’

The group now run the park as a social enterprise, with a team of volunteers – about 30 regulars and almost 50 who attend less often – tending to the kitchen garden, waiting on tables in the café and performing many other tasks.

The park last year added weddings to its programme of events, which also includes working with local schools and older people’s groups and adult education classes. A new outdoor kitchen area, built by apprentices from Siemens, will allow groups to plant, harvest and cook in the kitchen garden which is overlooked by the Hoad Monument on top of the hill.

Volunteer co-ordinator Cat Moffat added: ‘We have volunteers from all walks of life – some are retired, others are out of work and looking for a way back in, some have mental health issues and find volunteering here to be a therapeutic thing to do. They are here because they want to be.’

And Alison, who has been in post for two years, added: ‘Along with groups like Ulverston Community Enterprises, we’re pulling together to put Ulverston on the map, to celebrate what we have here and develop things further. It’s not a case of saying “We are Ulverston, only twenty minutes from the Lake District” but stopping at “We are Ulverston”.

‘We want to connect with other community groups and to develop the park as a visitor attraction. We have plans to create a children’s trail and to improve the signage around the park. We already sell our produce in the café and we’d like to extend that and to sell Coach House produce at markets and festivals as well.’

In October Alison was presented with the Employee of the Year prize at the Heart of Ulverston awards held at the town’s Coronation Hall. She used her acceptance speech to thank the community for their support.

She was nominated for the award by Dave Pearson, a volunteer at Ford Park, who said: ‘I nominated Alison because she has done a lot for this place. If it wasn’t for her I doubt it would still be here now.’

Dave, a former security guard at the school, said: ‘I came here as a volunteer. I initially came for three months but years later I’m still here. I do maintenance work and gardening and build bird boxes – whatever needs doing, really.

‘I have seen this place change so much over the years. It was in a right mess before but it’s an important place for the community and it’s great to see the way it has changed.’

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