Markeaton Park’s multi-million pound restoration

The boating lake Photo: Graham Whitmore

The boating lake Photo: Graham Whitmore - Credit: Archant

The Mundy family gave Markeaton Park to Derby City Council in the early 20th century. Nigel Powlson looks into its recent renovation.

The Orangery Cafe

The Orangery Cafe - Credit: Archant

After an extensive five-year restoration project, Derby’s Markeaton Park is attracting more visitors than ever.

The £3.5million investment has seen the park – always a popular green space – add to its attractions and become a thriving hub for an increasingly diverse range of activities.

The cash injection has seen the restoration of the craft village, Orangery Café, walled gardens and pleasure gardens as well as the creation of new paths, sports courts and play facilities.

A £2.54-million grant was received from the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Big Lottery Fund towards the Markeaton Park Restoration Project which has resulted in the transformation.

Archaeological investigations have uncovered the foundations of the old hall Photo: Graham Whitmore

Archaeological investigations have uncovered the foundations of the old hall Photo: Graham Whitmore - Credit: Archant

As part of the project, building restorations also saw improvements made to the stable courtyard and the gardens. The Mundy Play Centre has also been given a revamp, with a play area and footpaths put in place for improved access to the park.

The funding has allowed larger, one-off projects to take place alongside the regular activities available, such as archaeological digs, community art projects and volunteer environmental projects.

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Derby City Cllr Alan Grimadell, Cabinet Member for Leisure, Culture and Tourism, said: ‘Thanks to the Heritage Lottery Fund and the tireless work of our park staff and volunteers Markeaton Park has seen some fantastic refurbishments since work began in 2013.

‘Markeaton Park has long been at the heart of the city, as Derby’s most visited park, its transformation was recognised with the TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence in 2017 and 2018 and the park continues to attract visitors from across the East Midlands.

Enjoying a fine day in the park on the bridge over Markeaton Brook

Enjoying a fine day in the park on the bridge over Markeaton Brook - Credit: Archant

‘As an important part of Derby history, Markeaton is a park that has something for everyone. Families can explore the Mundy Play Centre, discover nature in the surrounding landscape, shop, relax and enjoy a bite in the Craft Village and splash around in the summer.

‘The improvements made to accessibility have opened the park up and paved the way for archaeological digs, community art projects and volunteer environmental projects. As a sanctuary of green in the centre of the city, this restoration project will ensure that Markeaton remains as such for many generations to come.’

The creation of new pathways has meant improved accessibility throughout the park increasing the range of activities on offer.

There is now a weekly 5K Park Run that has seen more than 600 people taking part. There is also a weekly 2K Junior Park Run. Using the park to encourage people to adopt healthier lifestyles is just one important strand of the ambitions.

The popular tennis courts

The popular tennis courts - Credit: Archant

The newly-improved Skyline at Markeaton is a challenging tree-top adventure located next to Mundy Play Centre. With various rope-course options, a ‘leap of faith’ and zip-line, visitors are challenged to manoeuvre obstacles, platforms, tunnels and climbing ropes as they make their way around the course. The course is open weekends from March and school holidays, with children’s party sessions also available.

Plans are underway to introduce Disc Golf from Spring 2019 as well as a new mini-golf course replacing the old facility.

Improvements have also been made to the lake thanks to considerable work from The Earl of Harrington’s Angling Club which operates the fishing provision at Markeaton Park and several other still waters and rivers across Derby.

Dawn Dagley, Markeaton Park Development Officer, is delighted with the way the restoration project has come together.

The Adventure Galleon in the Mundy Play Centre Photo: Ewan Mathers

The Adventure Galleon in the Mundy Play Centre Photo: Ewan Mathers - Credit: Archant

She said: ‘The aim was always to improve the facilities for the people of Derby and beyond and this investment was a great opportunity to do that. The park attracts a lot of visitors, but we wanted to get people to see all its possibilities.

‘A lot of visitors would come for only one thing and see only one part of it. But you can go for a lovely walk and you get a lake, woodland, large grass areas, nice views ... and you’ll not get muddy, and you can take a pushchair. And that’s before you get to the facilities – with the toilets and Orangery Café being refurbished and all the craft units.’

This transformation of the craft village has also seen new tenants moving in to the available units, with many independent craft outlets now calling Markeaton Park Craft Village their home and taking advantage of the growing numbers of visitors the park receives.

To meet this demand the amount of available parking has been extended and signage improved.

Elegant alleys to stroll down

Elegant alleys to stroll down - Credit: Archant

Much of the work that has taken place in the park could not have been done without the help of the Friends of Markeaton Park. The work carried out by the volunteers has been invaluable to the park’s continued maintenance. For example, The Walled Garden, including the beautiful bothy, is a feature of the park and was taken over by the Friends of Markeaton Park with its grand opening in August 2015.

The newly-restored craft village courtyard has also hosted a number of new events including the extremely popular Outdoor Theatre and Cinema Season and Christmas Family Festivities.

This summer the park’s Outdoor Theatre and Cinema Season will be showing two of the most popular films from last year, The Greatest Showman on Saturday 3rd August and the smash-hit Bohemian Rhapsody on Thursday 1st and Sunday 4th August. The romantic classic Dirty Dancing will also be showing as part of the season on Friday 2nd August 2019.

The park will also welcome families to join them in the summer for the annual Award Winning Keep Britain Tidy Superhero Picnic in the park event, on Tuesday 30th July, 11am to 3pm.

Dawn said: ‘The restoration has enabled us to put on more performances. It’s our third year of outdoor cinema and this year we have four days and we are selling out fast. We have brought back Dirty Dancing as it was so popular last year, and we have big recent hits the Greatest Showman and Bohemian Rhapsody for two nights.

‘We have Oddsocks with their versions of Shakespeare, children’s theatre and all the time we are getting so many enquiries from people who want to put on events. It has been so popular that it’s hard to find dates now during the better weather period.

‘I think we have really improved that visitor experience. People can shop, walk, play, exercise and in addition to that we have some new wooden sculptures which will be installed in the next few weeks.’ (See our feature on wood sculptor Andrew Frost on page 130.)

As well as human visitors, wildlife is important to Markeaton and Dawn says that it’s important that the park caters for both and that they can co-exist happily.

‘The number of birds that visit the park is incredible – herons, woodpeckers, kingfishers, nuthatch, pied wagtail – there are 31 species in total.

‘We also work with the local bat group who come in and do conservation work and we have a great bat population. The bat group members check out the bat boxes and in October reported 23 bats from five different species.

‘It’s an 85-hectare park and it’s just as popular with wildlife as with humans.

‘I think a lot of people have this perception that the park is very busy but despite the number of visitors we have on a sunny weekend you can still find parts of the park where you can have it to yourself. It’s a great place, for example, for children to learn to ride a bike.

‘We have a Nordic walking group, we have visitors with dementia, you could write an article on a host of different things as there are so many elements to it.

‘It’s great that so many community groups want to use the park, and everyone wants to look after it as well and have a sense of ownership. That’s been helped by all the improvements and I think that people genuinely now love the park and feel a connection with it. Before that it was just a city park that people dipped in and out of. Now the visitors are more regular and have a deeper connection with Markeaton.

‘We are very pleased with the whole project and feel that we have ticked all the boxes we wanted to and have gone well beyond what we wanted to achieve.

‘When I walk in the park, I see so many familiar faces and they all greet me. I see new babies coming here with the parents for their first walk and that’s what we are looking for, Markeaton being there for all ages.’

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