‘We’d like a linear park. Not just any park, but a linear park.’ That was our brief.
A linear park? What sort of park is that? One that’s stretched out in a long line?
At the outset, I wasn’t too sure either. Fortunately, the brief prepared by North Hartlepool Partnership – more of whom in a moment – made it all much clearer. Their community representatives had a notion of a community-based park, linking up the various disparate open spaces around the Headland in North Hartlepool. What the Partnership wanted was not simply to build a new park with more open space. They also wanted to encourage local people to take responsibility for individual components of the park – for example, to take over pockets of hitherto poorly maintained open space in residential neighbourhoods and make them their own. Very much in the spirit of modern community development, and not so far-fetched in North Hartlepool – there is already a very successful example of a community group taking on management responsibility for open space, Friends of Spion Kop, who manage the historic Spion Kop Local Nature Reserve.
So this project was not about creating a formal park in the style of traditional Victorian municipal parks. The aim was to create a park for the 21st century, one that local people could shape as they wish, whether it be for children’s play space or wildlife or whatever they choose.
I should explain who the North Hartlepool Partnership is… or rather was. The Partnership existed from 1996 to 2007 to oversee the delivery of SRB funds in North Hartlepool – an area which focusses on the historic Headland, with its links to the Venerable Bede, early Christianity, and the mediaeval port of Hartlepool; and still fiercely proud of its separateness and identity.
Under the leadership of their Chairman, Cllr John Marshall, the Partnership was keen to test whether the idea of a linear park could work:
Was the linear park practical? Could it realistically happen?
What might it look like?
What did the local community think of the idea?
Would the Council take a share in maintenance and running costs?
Would there be any money available to implement it? Would it fit with potential funders’ priorities?
The small team that I led, with colleagues from Cass Associates, were quickly won over by the Partnership’s brief. We submitted a proposal, and were delighted to win the job – which was, essentially, to prepare a feasibility study for the idea. As with any feasibility study, it involved several related strands of work, each taking place at the same time and informing each other:
Designing how the park might look and how much it might cost.
Identifying what local people wanted, and what they might be prepared to take on as their own projects.
Working with Council officers – such as the parks department – to assess whether they would commit to managing the park in the long term.
Establishing where funds might come from to pay for the project, and what potential funders would be looking for.
To see the proposals that we came up with for this linear park, and our conclusions about its feasibility, flick through our final report:
(Click on the image of the report to read it on screen – or download a copy to read later.)