Blackpool’s Stanley Park, has been voted by the public as the UK’s Best Park at the prestigious annual Fields in Trust (FIT) Awards 2017. Designed by celebrated landscape architect Thomas Mawson in the 1920s, the park which boasts an Italian marble fountain, boating lake, bandstand, Medici lions, Italian gardens and Art Deco styled café, scooped the headline award at the annual event.
Each year, the FIT Awards showcases some of the UK’s best open spaces and shines a light on the efforts and achievements of the people whose tireless dedication ensures that these vital outdoor spaces can be enjoyed by the public. Now in their sixth year, the Awards are organised by the FIT charity, which counts His Royal Highness The Duke of Cambridge as its president and protects the UK’s vital open spaces, from sports pitches to children’s playgrounds, bicycle trails and country parks, safeguarding them for future generations.
For the third year running, the UK's Best Park Award, voted for by the public celebrates the nation's favourite park. This year the public nominated 360 parks in total from across the UK with over 15,000 votes cast. Stanley Park, Blackpool beat off stiff competition from three other finalists shortlisted,which included Craigavon City Park in County Armagh, Roath Park in Cardiff and Rouken Glen Park in East Renfrewshire. The award was presented by former Welsh Rugby International and FIT trustee Brynmor Williams, at a celebratory dinner on at Lord’s Cricket Ground in London, hosted by TV sports broadcaster Jacqui Oatley.
Other successes of the night included the following:
- Most Improved Fields - Furness Vale Once neglected, derelict and lacking any sports facilities, Furness Vale has been transformed and boasts a well-drained level surface for football, gym equipment, mosaic trail, table tennis, flowerbeds, benches, picnic tables, and a perimeter path.
- Best ‘Have a Field Day’ - Stanley Park The day celebrated the park’s 90th birthday, with a re-enactment of the opening ceremony. Local schools depicted each decade since the park opened through costume, music and games. Afternoon tea was donated by local supermarkets with Blackpool Heritage offeringtours of the park, a community choir and a range of games entertained the thousands of people who came along.
- Best Play Initiative - Wingham Parish Council The Parish Council set out to provide play facilities for older children, after extensive consultation the recreation ground now boasts a MUGA for 5-a-side football and basketball, and a separate play area for younger children. With challenging opportunities for swinging, bouncing, climbing, balancing and the chance to experience speed on an aerial runway, the equipment is designed to improve agility and coordination and there is also a walnut tree which acts as a great climbing frame. Most importantly, the play equipment is inclusive so children of all abilities can play together.
- Getting Active (Team Sports) - Market Drayton Community Amateur Sports Club In 2017 the club has doubled participation in cricket compared with 2016 and have more than 85 cricketers from age 6 upwards playing weekly throughout the year. They actively encourage junior girls and disabled cricketers and many junior players have reached Shropshire county level.
- Getting Active (Individual sports and informal activity) - Telford Town Park Arena. Energize (the County Sports Partnership) and the Arena developed the "Go Wild Active Adventure", combining technology and the great surroundings to get more than 40 families active. The Arena is also a focal point for couch to 5k programmes in the area, with many graduations taking place. The parkrun has 400-550 runners/walkers each week, compared to 250-300 last year. And the junior parkrun has 100+ 4-14 year olds. A run/talk group has grown from parkrun, with a focus on mental health.
- Friends Group of the Year - Friends of Angel Meadow. The group was formed in 2004 to campaign for the park’s regeneration, and since then has since been transformed from an abandoned, unloved site into a green retreat amid the bustle of the city. The membership, which has doubled in the last five years includes people from across Manchester who are interested in preserving this beautiful site. Those who are unable to get involved in the more physical activities support the group with historical and genealogical research.
- Local Authority Partner of the Year - Belfast City Council. Belfast City Council was the first in the UK to launch The London Marathon Charitable Trust’s Active Spaces programme. The Belfast project is taking place on the site where the legendary George Best learned to play football. They are the only council in the UK to have embraced all of The Fields in Trusts protection programmes, protecting a King George V Field, QEII, a Centenary Field and now an Active Spaces site.
- Town and Parish County Council - Alcester Town Council. The council has a policy of acquiring land from the local district council and then protecting it – their portfolio now consists of four sites.
- Community Champion - Kazia Knight & Marc Ellul. Kazia Knight has been the Chairwoman since the formation of the Friends of Sandringham Park since its formation and has been the driving force for improvement and positive change. From being threatened with closure three times due to anti-social behaviour, the park now has Green Flag status and has won many Yorkshire in Bloom awards. Marc Ellul is the chair of three Friends Groups, including the Friends of Tatem Park. Passionate about the park, he is always organizing volunteering events and constantly fund raises to improve the local park. He has also worked very closely with Enfield Council to ensure success of all projects.
- Young Champion - Kimberley Mpukusa. Kimberley began playing tennis at an early age, and has been actively involved in the BME Sport Cymru project, engaging and inspiring women and young people from BME communities. Her achievements in tennis alongside the challenges she has overcome in her life, have been an inspiration to participants.
- UK’s Best Park - Stanley Park. Designed by celebrated landscape architect Thomas Mawson in the 1920s, Stanley Park boasts an Italian marble Fountain, boating lake, bandstand, Medici Lions, Italian Gardens, visitor centre, mini-golf, children’s area and Art Deco styled café. The Friends Group work hard to organise free summer entertainment, car shows and plenty of family entertainment.
Commenting on this year’s Awards, Helen Griffiths, FIT CEO said: “These awards give us the opportunity to shine a light on some of the UK’s most beautiful green spaces up and down the country. Despite their undeniable contribution to the happiness and health of our communities parks and outdoor spaces are often undervalued. This event allows us to showcase some of the people and organisations that work tirelessly to ensure the upkeep and community enjoyment of these wonderful spaces."