Jun 242010

New lease of life for the Gibberie Wallie in Sunnybank Park

Gibberie Wallie

Gibberie Wallie badly in need of repair after being vandalised.

A group of residents in Aberdeen have come together to stop a valued green space being sold by the Local Authority. The newly constituted group “Friends of Sunnybank Park” are a collection of citizens from all walks of life who have renamed and taken control of their own recreational centre in the Old Aberdeen area. The formerly named St. Machar Outdoor Centre had, in 2009, been earmarked by Aberdeen City Council (ACC) for closure – saving the city an extra £22,000 – as part of it’s £25 million budget cuts package. However, after many objections and local protest, the council agreed to give the initial steering group a period of 6 months to devise a business plan for the park. In May 2010, the plan was accepted and the Council agreed to lease the ground to the group at the rate of £1 per annum. The lease is still being finalised .

The group had, as set out in the plan, sent questionnaires to residents in Sunnybank, Powis and Old Aberdeen. People were asked how they used the area, what features they would like to see incorporated in the new design and what they would like to see done with the Pavilion (recently demolished by ACC for safety reasons). Among the most popular answers for what the public would like to see in their park were green space, allotments, children’s play area, wildlife, community fruit orchard, sports facilities, cafe and toilets. These findings were instrumental in creating the final business plan.

The new tenants then began searching for ways to fund the project looking to individuals, local organisations and national bodies. These include:

Climate Change Scotland – which gave the group £35,000 to create and maintain allotments.

Aberdeen Greenspace Trust – www.aberdeengreenspace.org.uk – which has agreed in principle to a £60,000 grant for path building.

British Trust for Conservation Volunteers (BTCV) – www2.btcv.org.uk – which will be providing volunteer support to establish and maintain the park.

Aberdeen Permaculture Group – which will provide planning assistance and general support.

Councillor John Stewart – gave the group £500 from his ward budget

Two other councillors have pledged £100 each.

Bag packing, social events and car boot sales are also being proposed.

The group is also in partnership with Greenspace Scotland. Greenspace Scotland is an ‘independent charitable company’ which helps projects measure the social benefits of green space.

Sunnybank Path

Sunnybank Path heavily overgrown with vegetation

The concept is known as Social Return On Investment (SROI). Grace Banks, a member of the Management Committee, explained how it might work in Sunnybank Park, “Some of these benefits can be directly translated into monetary gain, which can be helpful when applying for funding, e.g, a person who has previously not had much social life and has had to visit the NHS on a regular basis becomes involved in the park. Perhaps they begin to help out on litter picks, planting events and workshops; spending much more time outside. Their gain is social, less money spent on isolated activities, less NHS time used, they receive tuition for free which would have cost maybe £40-80.00 as a professional workshop… And ultimately above all else they are happier, have people they meet with regularly and they are enjoying the outdoor green much more! Which is so valuable.” Greenspace Scotland will be providing the group with 2 members of staff to measure the SROI.

Although still in its infancy, today’s Sunnybank Park looks quite different from the old out – door centre with the vandalised Pavilion. At weekends or in the evenings you can see the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) youth group in the park litter-picking or tree planting, neighbours strimming grass or cutting back the over-grown bushes, people walking their dogs along the new paths cleared by volunteers, students playing football and plenty of diverse wildlife complimented by people regularly enjoying picnics in the area. The RSPB youths told me that their commitment to the conservation of the park coupled with the simple presence of enthusiastic young souls was “helping the community see the park in a better light” which will lead to greater local participation in the project.

Anyone can join the “Friends of Sunnybank Park” group. The management committee will charge a very small joining fee (yet to be decided) and keep members updated with regular newsletters and information on the park events. If you would like to learn more about this project please go to our website or join the Facebook page.

Article by Simon Gall