As you meander around Dulwich Park during the year, enjoying its ever-changing sights throughout the seasons, you may be unaware of the work by volunteers that help make that a continuing reality.
At a time of ever more cuts to local authority budgets, a group such as Dulwich Park Friends plays an important role in liaising with Southwark Council over changes to the management of the park and their proposals for its use. The Friends also corral bands of volunteers - for example, for their ‘Dig the Park’ initiative that takes place on the first Saturday of most months, from 10am-1pm, or to provide support to the Council in their delivery of the Dulwich Park Fair on the last Sunday of the Dulwich Festival in May.
Visitors to the park enjoy the more obvious evidence of the Friends’ work in planting over 200,000 daffodil, bluebell, alium and other bulbs over the years, but will be less aware of other essential work they have carried out, such as cutting back and pruning within the village copse (planted as part of the Heritage Lottery Fund works in 2007). Some of the biggest projects promoted by the Friends - such as the outdoor gym equipment, the Winter Garden and the village copse - were sparked by members’ ideas, which are always welcomed.
Much also happens behind the scenes. The Friends are on the Council’s list of park stakeholders to be consulted on proposed events within the park. To limit the cuts to the general parks’ budget for the borough, not surprisingly the Council would like to generate revenue by hiring out public spaces. For example, readers will probably be familiar by now with the annual trio of open air film shows by La Luna Cinema, in late summer.
Whenever the Council notify the Friends of a pending event application, the Friends do their best to influence the way in which the proposed event will be set up - the scale, where in the park it should take place, and how it should be implemented. The Friends are mindful of the Council’s need to derive income from public assets, but always remind them that there is a balance to be struck. Recently they persuaded the Council to re-orientate a children’s open air film week planned by La Luna, so as to lessen the noise impact for Court Lane residents. They have also successfully opposed large-scale events in the past on the basis of being inappropriate to a heritage park.
A recent proposal undergoing public consultation at the time of going to press relates to the introduction of parking charges within the park. After meeting councillors and consulting their members, the Friends concluded that objections to charging as a principle are unlikely to succeed, but there could be scope for modifying the impact, such as free parking between certain hours. They will be making a formal submission to the consultation, the outcome of which will be reported in the next edition of this journal.
After almost seven years as Head Gardener, Gerry Kelsey left in March to take up an exciting post in charge of horticulture at the Olympic Park. His temporary - possibly permanent - replacement is Natalie Meredith, who came through the ranks from an apprenticeship in 2012. Both she and Gerry have worked regularly with the Friends in a relationship of mutual benefit.
In addition to the roles mentioned above, the Friends’ committee, chaired by Emily Montague, operate alongside the group’s wider membership and park users as extra sets of eyes and ears for the park management - be it reporting a fallen tree, a rogue dog or overnight graffiti. Having good lines of communication means that problems are usually responded to quickly.
Encouragingly, the Friends committee has taken on five new members in recent years (three in 2018-19). However, the hunt for new committee members is an evergreen process. If you have skills you could bring to the group - for example about the horticulture or the flora and fauna in the park, or in relation to the organisation of the Friends, including IT - they would welcome your approach. Contact details can be found on their website www.dulwichparkfriends.org.uk, where you can also join as a member. Keep an eye out there for notices of initiatives for which you might like to help, to keep the park as magnificent as it currently is.
The Friends are also on Twitter @DulwichPark and Instagram @dulwichpark_friends