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Bringing Bandstands Back to Life

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Continued austerity or have cracks started to appear?

Posted on 15 July, 2017 at 7:50 Comments comments (0)

I am a great lover of parks and the ingredients that make up a great park. My fascination with the bandstand is undoubted as well as the parkitecture within. A few weeks ago, I visited Birkenhead Park, the grandad of our greatest parks, designed by Joseph Paxton and today remains the model for what makes a viable and healthy park. I loved it, but not because of the features within it but the complete design of it. I had heard that its design was simply stunning and its features were outstanding, but this park had something else – it was the total ‘sense of the place’ – the way I was led around it, the landscape opened up then closed around me, views opened up, the twists, the turns and the surprises. It was incredible. I don’t remember feeling like that before in such a park. It was a windy day – very windy, quite late on and I did have the park primarily to myself, but saw dog walkers, joggers, lovers, children, teenagers, office workers rushing home – it embraced all aspects of parklife I know and appreciate and more. It was and is a Paxton masterpiece. So, why am I pontificating about Paxton and Birkenhead in particular? Birkenhead is across the Mersey from Liverpool and like many towns and cities across the UK, is struggling. I was in the area Green Flag Judging - two on the Wirral and one in Liverpool. It was bittersweet as I failed one park and passed the other two but I know that boroughs across the UK are struggling with mounting funding crises – having to meet a vast array of agendas and having to prioritise. The loss of revenue support grant – continued austerity or so called austerity, and authorities like Liverpool, Bristol and Newcastle cutting parks budgets, always an easy hit – by up to 90%. What was shocking on my visit was that the Liverpool Park I passed was managed and maintained by Liverpool ONE, and was not a typical local authority managed or funded park – it was central to a major commercial retail zone, it was immaculate and highly maintained, and well loved by the transient community that use it. But look behind the commercial heart of Liverpool and parks like Sefton Park, Stanley Park, Calderstones Park, Newsham Park and Walton Hall Park are suffering. Depleted resources, staff cuts and the return of the downward spiral of despair. This was none more emphasised than the article in the Guardian last weekend – link https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/jul/09/the-end-of-park-life-as-we-know-it-the-battle-for-britains-green-spaces-rowan-moore?CMP=fb_gu" target="_blank">here – ‘The end of Parklife as we know it’ – it was the best written article I have read in a long time on the future of our parks. Cracks are appearing in so called austerity, but is it too late? The government we have in power (that no one wants) are obsessed with Brexit, so self -obsessed on saving their own skins and can quite happily conjure up 10 billion to keep them in power yet cannot find a single penny to save one of our most important institutions - the public park – the one institution that ticks every single box of nearly every single local authority priority – health, economy, education, environment, culture, heritage, climate, biodiversity, community, cohesion, arts – every single one. It is so obvious. It is time they responded to the recent public inquiry and reversed the impact of so-called austerity and started to fund local authorities once again in allowing them to provide decent parks for our many local communities.


A Public Parks Inquiry or Public Cop out??

Posted on 15 February, 2017 at 20:25 Comments comments (0)

So, after waiting months, an incredible amount of submissions on the future of parks submitted to DCLG, and then the anticipation of something? What would be that something?  Its conclusion was as follows:-


The significant interest in, and the overwhelming response to, our inquiry is a clear indication of just how strongly people feel about their local parks, how much they value them, and how important it is that action is taken to safeguard and secure the future of England’s parks and green spaces. Our witnesses—individuals, friends groups, local authorities, and other bodies—describe parks as being at a tipping point. As Cllr Trickett of Birmingham City Council told us: “We have been innovative and we have looked at alternatives, but the cuts are in very great danger of tilting the balance too far”.265 If action is taken, and appropriate priority given to parks, we do not believe it is too late to prevent a period of decline. However, if the value of parks and their potential contribution are not recognised, then the consequences could be severe for some of the most important policy agendas facing our communities today. 136.There is, clearly, no ‘one size fits all’ solution. Responsibility for parks lies primarily with local authorities. We believe that local authorities are best placed to make decisions which are appropriate for their local circumstances. However, within a context of declining local authority budgets, we believe that there is a role for central government to play in providing vision, leadership and coordination, facilitating the sharing of lessons learned and best practice, and ensuring that the role of parks, their contribution, and their function as just one element of our wider green infrastructure networks, is recognised.


The findings have told us nothing new at all.  Bullet points that I picked up on:-


We recognise that parks have traditionally been seen as financial liabilities for local authorities, and understand that assessing the value of parks to their communities in wider terms can be complex. Parks are not financial liabilities. They are financial assets, they are community assets and in comparison to most other services provided by Local Authorities they are incredibly cheap to provide. Cost per user is pence in comparison to the delivery of a waste service or a leisure centre. 


In the planning and management of parks, local authorities must engage effectively in dialogue with their communities to assess and understand their needs, and to explain the decisions which they take. We have been doing this for the last 20 years since the advent of Green Flag - not even mentioned in the summary or conclusions??? Talk about teaching us to suck eggs! 


We believe that addressing the challenges which face the parks sector in a way which secures a sustainable future for England’s parks may require fundamental service transformation, which takes into account the wider value and benefits which parks deliver, beyond their amenity and leisure value. We have received a wide range of suggestions for alternative funding sources for parks, and examples of different approaches to parks management. A recent report by Dr Katy Layton Jones summarised that despit there being attempts at finding alternative funding models such as Trusts, ALMO's, community asset transfers etc, the core method in funding parks is in fact the tried and tested method - a local authority model with adequate funding to provide a decent quality service. Rethinking Parks by Nesta in my humble view really gave us nothing - it scratched the surface and the figures saved were a pittance. The scale of cuts in places in Newcastle and other large authorities are simply abhorrent. Transferring the 'problem' to another organisation such as the National Trust is a bold move. I am not sure its the answer. Nationally it has to be decent funded parks managed by Local Authorities. 


We recognise, in principle, the benefits of designating senior elected members and officials as parks champions with responsibility for highlighting and coordinating the contribution which parks make to the achievement of broader council objectives, and for preparing strategies for their parks and green spaces. We have all done this, BUT a strategy that is not underpinned by investment or funding is not worth the paper it is written on. A Parks Champion in a local authority - tried before - politicians come and go and a good politician can shout about the need for great parks and we have had successive parks ministers allegedly and they have achieved nothing - they come and go. 


We recommend that the Minister issues very clear guidance to local authorities that they should work collaboratively with Health and Wellbeing Boards, and other relevant bodies where appropriate, to prepare and publish joint parks and green space strategies. I like this and I think it is important. Local Authorities now have a role to play in Public Health Agenda and I do think there should be more collaborative work between Health Trusts and Local Authorities - decent parks means decent health, the evidence is overwhelming. My angst here is the NHS is an alleged mess, underfunded and overstretched but if they could be persuaded long term of the savings that would be made by working with parks providers, and allocating 'budget' to preventative health care (quality green spaces, community activators, sport, activities, health works etc), there could be some real inroads made. My hope from the inquiry was this could be something revolutionary. Remember in 1833 with the Select Committee for Public Walks, the reason why we got parks was to improve public health. I hope the minister picks up on this. 


We welcome the steps taken by the parks sector in England to fill the gap left by CABE Space and Greenspace, such as the establishment of the Parks Alliance and the National Federation of Parks and Green Spaces, the Future Parks project led by the National Trust, and the work undertaken as part of Nesta’s Rethinking Parks programme to bring together a database of people and groups with an interest in parks. Are we getting CABE Space back? The government took it off us. I didn't see any reference to the HLF in the conclusions either. I am sure its in the body of the report. Or Green Flag? The Parks Alliance are made up of a small number of volunteers who work in the parks sector. We have APSE but do we have a body representing us? lobbying for us? How we miss ILAM!! 


We believe that early priorities for the group should include: establishing and maintaining an online parks information hub to make it easier for local authorities to find out about what other authorities are doing, to facilitate the sharing of learning and good practice, and to provide signposting to other sources of information or advice; and working with the Local Government Association to develop and implement options for establishing and supporting national or regional park manager forums in England, learning from the approach taken in Scotland. Yes we had that with CABE Space and their work was incredible. That information still exists. 


In my conclusion, the inquiry was comprehensive, it raised our hopes but the outcome is that it has given us nothing. It was reinforced to me tonight with a Facebook update from the Friends of Small Heath Park in Birmingham who are witnessing the wholesale removal of shrub beds in their local park - a historic park for many reasons, because the City Council cannot afford to maintain them. The responses were highly critical of the council yet many if not most are left with some very stark choices.  We have to fight to survive or the work many of us have done over the last 20 years will be undone. One glimmer of light I do have and I frequently cite is that many of our parks are 100 years old or more and whilst like life itself, they ebb and flow, they have survived decades of use and abuse, they have outlived governements, cuts, mismanagement, world wars, riots, vandalism and the majority of them are still with us. History tells us this BUT we should learn from history - it would save so much time, effort and money by so many (or so few of us today). #myparkmatters. 

Horticulture Week comments here 

DCLG Site https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/communities-and-local-government-committee/news-parliament-2015/public-parks-report-16-17/" target="_blank">here with full report

Cassiobury Park bandstand returns .... at last

Posted on 1 September, 2016 at 16:00 Comments comments (0)

One of the remnants of the great lost estates of the United Kingdom, Cassiobury Park is now the largest park in Hertfordshire, and the principal park of its primary town, Watford covering an area twice the size of Hyde Park in London. But this is no ordinary town park nor is it a park that stems from the Victorian age. It is the remnant of the once great Cassiobury House and the estate of the Earls of Essex. By the beginning of the twentieth century, the decline of the Cassiobury estate was obvious with large areas of the park sold off in 1909 and 1912 to Watford Borough Council for public parkland despite the opposition of local people. By 1921 the lease on the house was surrendered and in 1927, the magnificent gothic mansion of Cassiobury House was demolished. Much of the remaining land was bought by the Council and became further parkland. Despite the localised resistance to the acquisition of the new park, it soon became extremely popular with new facilities introduced. Central to the new park was the introduction of a significant bandstand within an enclosure. Tenders were being invited in September 1911 ‘for a bandstand to be erected in Cassiobury Park’.

A number of tenders were received including one from McDowall Steven and Co. for a No.5 bandstand. However it was a tender from Messrs. Ensor and Ward that was accepted for the erection of a Hill & Smith bandstand in October 1911. The West Herts Post on 20 September 1912 reported ‘Cassiobury Park Bandstand – this structure now appears to be shaping up under the supervision of Messrs. Ensor and Ward, builders and contractors, Watford who have got the work in hand [and] will shortly complete the whole structure. It is to be hoped the fine weather will prevail... The opening of the new addition to the Park takes place on Wednesday afternoon at 4.30pm when the Artizan Staff Band will render a nice selection of music’. It was formally opened on the 27 September 1912. Screens were later added in 1914 and proposals to extend the bandstand area between 1920 and 1923. Immensely popular, The West Herts and Watford Observer reported on 15 September 1923, ‘The season’s band performances in Cassiobury Park concluded on Sunday with two programmes by the combined bands of the Coldstream Guards and the Welsh Guards. In the afternoon the enclosure was full, but at the evening performance the accommodation was taxed to overflowing, and thousands congregated around the bandstand’. In 1930, sales brochures for local estate developments describe Cassiobury Park’s natural amenities ‘with a band enclosure with seating for 1,500 people. First class military bands give performances every Sunday’.

By the 1970s the bandstand was a shadow of its former self and in 1975 was in pieces in the Council depot but with a decision to re-erect it but even this caused consternation locally with one councillor complaining about its proposed new position next to the library, ‘I never thought this was a suitable place for a bandstand but having got a stupid concrete base we have got to do something with it’. It was subsequently reassembled but was never intended ‘to be used by a band or for musical entertainment’ but as ‘an architectural feature’. Its condition was poor, missing its soundboard and had an appalling felt roof. 

But now...... IT IS BACK in its rightful place and back in Cassiobury Park and is to be re-opened on Sunday 4th September, carefully restored by Lost Art of Wigan. The colours are reflective of the Capel family tree and now sits resplendent back exactly where it used to be. 

The bandstand in the park - early days

The bandstand in the 1970s


In the town centre - looking poor and forlorn


Time to go back to the park? 


And what will it look like?


and up she comes...


Colours in the park again and here it is shining in the Watford sunshine

One year on.....

Posted on 15 May, 2016 at 17:00 Comments comments (0)

I thought it would a good time to update on progress as I think it has been about just over a year I established the CIC. 

Its been a mixed bag but pretty good overall and with some great feedback and responses. 

Highlights - 

 

  • I have visited over 200 bandstands (212 to be precise and if you include repeat visits, more like 300).
  • The database now covers 1,189 bandstands existing and lost and I keep finding more that crop up.
  • I now have a vast database of images of nearly all bandstands, although some remain elusive. 
  • My postcard collection alone totals more than 500. 
  • Bandstands have been restored and replaced across the country - more than 100 of them, from Hawick to Hanley, Watford to Windsor, St. Helens to Stoke. The rate of restoration has been phenomenal. 
  • I now have a database of all bandstands and contact details for all. 
  • We have had great coverage on media - Daily Mail to Radio 2
  • I managed to bag myself the status as one of the Dullest Men in Great Britain too. 
  • We now have 2 books on bandstands out there and a third on the way (2018 ) with a fourth on the way too. 
  • We continue to promote the wider use of bandstands to users and local authorities and will continue to do so. 
  • The Queen now has her "own" bandstand in Royal Windsor and opened as part of her 90th birthday celebrations. 
  • New bandstands planned in Luton and Coventry
Lesser highlights - 
  • We were unsuccessful in our HLF bid sadly to look at encouraging greater use of bandstands in the Eastern Region
  • There are still many bandstands not being used that should be
  • There is still too much red tape and not enough flexibility for using bandstands
  • There are still too many bandstands in poor shape - Lancaster - you have the worst in the country.
The future - 
  • A continuation of banging the drum for bandstands - I feel that strongly about them and their long term sustainability is vital for their long term survival
  • An exhibition somewhere - Ironbridge Gorge Museum? Beamish Museum? V&A? I need a venue, I need a grant and the time to do but having spoken to Lost Art guys, the time has come to celebrate the design of these iconic features
  • A book from Historic England - under way
  • A book covering ALL bandstands - almost an A to Z - under way. 
  • Greater coverage in the media - a documentary perhaps, how good would that be? 
So all in all, pretty successful. I will continue the crusade as boring as it may seem to many. 
A question I am frequently asked? My favourite bandstand? By the seaside...Brighton. In a public park... Town Gardens, Swindon. But I will probably change my mind next week. 
Thank you everybody for your continued support. You may also be interested in a new book out in June this year with many many bandstands included. 'Great British Parks - A Celebration' - celebrating 20 years of restoring parks with HLF funding and needless to say includes many beautiful bandstands. 


 

Putting my own house in order

Posted on 23 February, 2016 at 0:05 Comments comments (0)

Lots of restorations underway this year which is always good. Having had a long chat with my good friend Dominic Liptrot from Lost Art Ltd, the restorer of many great bandstands, its good to hear of so many bandstands underway this year and being restored - from Dartmouth Park in West Bromwich to Hexham Parks Walter Macfarlane 249 model. Its all good stuff. But this year, I am putting my very own bandstand in order. The Hill & Smith bandstand which has sat outside the Town Hall in Watford since being removed from Cassiobury Park in the 1970s is being restored and relocated back into the park as part of an HLF funded park restoration project. At last. Its in very poor condition with a shocking felt roof. Whats good about this? Well clearly, another restoration is important as is putting right a wrong when it was moved from the park. Also the fact that Lost Art are doing it, one of a small number of restoration teams capable of such work. It also means there will be a new vibrancy in Cassiobury Park once again. We already have Watford Town Band keen to get on and play BUT I am having a go at getting Grimethorpe Colliery Band here too. They are the Real Madrid of the brass band world - seriously good. 

Anyway, I will be following the progress of this restoration closely and it will feature heavily on here, from restoration to back to life. 


Forgotten but found..... what a remarkable story

Posted on 18 January, 2016 at 15:50 Comments comments (0)

Now this is a wonderful story. You hear about warehouses or old hangars discovered full of classic cars worth a fortune, well this isn't quite classic cars but the story of a long forgotten bandstand. Saughton Park, Edinburgh bandstand was removed many many years ago like so many. It was the twin of one found on the Meadows, also in Edinburgh and a rather lovely Lion Foundry No 23, both erected in 1908. Both became disused and the one on the Meadows sadly lost but the one from Saughton Park, removed and stored in a council depot. And that was the last that was heard of it - stored in a depot. So 2013/14 and a campaign launched to reinstate the bandstand and by 2016 the council is successful and receives a whopping great grant to not only restore the park, but put the bandstand back. But.... where is that bandstand? Peter McDougall from Edinburgh City Council picks up the story.

" When I started with the Council as Development Officer for the Saughton Park Restoration Project in February 2014 one of my tasks was to find the Saughton Bandstand which the Council had apparently misplaced.

Over the next three months I read all that I could about our bandstand, which I remembered fondly from my time working as an arboriculturist based at Saughton Park in the early 1980’s. My most notable memory of the Saughton bandstand was when Derek Dick, then a forestry student on his sandwich year with us, stood in the Bandstand and sang Led Zeppelin’s ‘Stairway to Heaven’ all the way through to a bunch of somewhat underwhelmed tree surgeons. Derek went on to become Fish, the singer with Marillion!

Anyway, I read your fantastic book and the 2009 Charles Laing & Sons Ltd conservation report that the Council commissioned on our Lion No.23 Bandstand, but I still could not find it. I even spoke to the chap who dismantled it, which was his first job as an apprentice. The rumours were that it had been moved to a storage place near Penicuik, south of Edinburgh, but alas, no it wasn’t there.

Then I found out that it had been moved some years later from Penicuik to Granton in north Edinburgh, but again I drew a blank, it wasn’t there and no-one knew much about it. On my quest I was regularly being faced with lots of bunnets being shifted back, heads scratched and phrases like “A bandstand you say, aye ah do remember someone mentioning ane right enough son, but…”

A chance meeting with an old colleague from the Planning dept at last threw up a tangible lead. He had photos of it in storage. So here I saw it, our No.23 sitting on a rack, all labelled and waiting. The trouble was that the guy didn’t take the pics, nor was here sure about where they were taken, but they dated from the last fifteen years or so, “Try over Westerhailes way” he said, “I’m sure that it is over there somewhere”. This was discouraging as Westerhailes on the map looks like it covers about a quarter of the City.

With that, my colleague Alan Grevers suggested jumping in the van and visiting a little known Council store in Murrayburn which is part of Westerhailes. When we arrived we were faced with an enormous hangar like shed with nothing to suggest what was inside at all or indeed, who owned and operated the facility. No notices, no Council logos…..nothing. Completely anonymous! No bell, not even a letterbox.

We found a door, which opened when we tried the handle. Stepping inside it was very dark apart from a bit of light coming from a portacabin in the corner, the door of which opened and into the pool of light appeared a guy in a hi-vis coat. “Hi, I’m Pete McDougall, I’m working on the Saughton Park project……” I began, but was quickly interrupted ……. “and you are here to see your bandstand, I’ve been waiting on you……” said the guy in the hi-vis. At that he flicked some switches which revealed, light by light something out of the Raiders of the Lost Ark…..everywhere around us were old artefacts, Victorian lamp posts, massive bits of ornate stonework, a pair of Gryphons and loads of gargoyles. In the distance hi-vis man shouted “over here, it’s all here”. Sure enough, there it was, our Lion foundry No.23 all laid out on racks and labelled, apart from one column that they had renovated at some point.

Not a bad day at work at all really." 

What a brilliant story. 


Famous in the Last Century

Posted on 2 January, 2016 at 8:40 Comments comments (1)

Famous in the last century is the title of a rather poor Status Quo album (who I am listening to as I write this blog) but it suddenly occurred to me that hearing that the Bay City Rollers have reformed and were playing Hogmanay in Scotland frightened me. Actually, I did have a soft spot for them way back in the 70s. I was more of a Slade and Sweet fan myself until I discovered Deep Purple. Anyway, just before Christmas, Mike Levett from Harlow Council contacted me about their bandstand which is being done up in the Town Park. It does feature on the website. He gave me a great list of bands that have appeared on their more modern bandstand over the years and its reading was incredible and is almost a who's who of some of rocks greatest:- Atomic Rooster, Pink Fairies, Chicken Shack, Mungo Jerry, 10CC, Fairport Convention, Groundhogs, Bay City Rollers, Hawkwind, Rubettes, Thin Lizzy, Long John Baldry, Man, Mud, Osibisa, The Glitter Band, Caravan, Eddie and the Hot Rods, Ruby Turner, Curiosity Killed the Cat, and the Pogues. The one that really caught the eye was June 25 1977, as they cancelled, was AC/DC, one of the biggest bands in the world today. 

Many great bands have played on bandstands elsewhere. Bowie in 1969 on the Beckenham Rec Bandstand in Bromley, Dire Straits on Clapham Common, and the mighty Pink Floyd and The Who have played at Parliament Hill bandstand. I would love to source images of these so thats a project in itself - a few I have are below. What does this tell us? Bandstands are as relevant as they ever were. They can accommodate a small duo, to the biggest rock band in the world. Whether I will realise my ambition of getting Led Zeppelin on Leighton Buzzard's bandstand remains to be seen. 


Bowie in Beckenham - Picture courtesy of Andra Nelki



Restoration men!!

Posted on 17 July, 2015 at 17:30 Comments comments (1)

A busy year so far. And so it continues. I did a talk to Steeple Claydon WI on Bandstands - History, Decline & Revival and what a great bunch of girls but it dawned on me - again - how much we love them. Still we see them restored. Harlow Town Park bandstand is under restoration as we speak -  the venue for such icons as the Bay City Rollers and Hawkwind; Alexandra Gardens in Windsor underway; Mary Stevens Park in Stourbridge nearly done; Wilton Lodge Park in Hawick - open for business; Hyde Park being restored too; Hexham Parks about to be restored too. But there are so many more to see restored. Lets keep the momentum going. 


Harlow Town Park  before restoration

Where are we now?

Posted on 3 July, 2015 at 18:40 Comments comments (0)

Well since the launch of www.bookabandstand.com, the response has been amazing. Lots of coverage and it continues. Friends and colleagues have responded brilliantly and the database is updated daily. I am getting on for 3,000 hits already and I have many additions to summer gigs. 

Keep Britain Tidy and Green Flag Award have now picked up on it too. Brass Band England are keen as are Making Music. I won't stop  till I get them all fully used and sustainable. Get gigging on your bandstand and let me know. 

All publicity is good publicity

Posted on 22 February, 2015 at 13:25 Comments comments (0)

A good week for publicity for bandstands - The Times early in the week and this weekend - The Daily Mail Online 

http//www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2963090/Then-pictures-Britain-s-iconic-bandstands-Landscape-gardener-tours-country-s-parks-research-treasured-structures.html





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