The Renaissance and Renewal Project aims to create a vibrant Park landscape that serves its users, has its own integrity, and which celebrates its heritage through a range of restored heritage features, recreating the original flow and ‘feel’ of the historic parkland. The key to the project will be to use the extensive history of the site and the remaining heritage as a catalyst for learning, engagement and participation.
Park Activity Programme
A full-time Volunteering and Activities Officer will deliver a programme of organised activities within the Park to engage all sectors of the community. By Year 3 of the project it is anticipated that there will be activities on most days. This Parks for People bid includes the cost for running a range of regular and specialised activities. The Volunteering and Activities Officer will also work to train and support community groups to use the centre and park to organise and run their own activities, making Park activity sustainable in the long-term.
Volunteer Programme and Friends Group
The project will develop opportunities for participation and volunteering to encourage a sense of community ownership of Houghton Hall Park. To ensure long-term sustainable outcomes, attention will be given to:
• further developing the “Friends of HHP“ community group,
• training community leaders and volunteers to run activities,
• developing literature, maps and self-guided activities, and
• providing training and support to volunteers interested in practical tasks on the site.
The focus will be on diversifying the appeal of the scheme and the type of volunteer activities available to encourage volunteers from a wider cross section of the local community.
Young Volunteers Programme
The project will get local young people from Houghton Regis and the surrounding area actively involved with Houghton Hall Park on a long term basis. Young people will be encouraged to take ownership of the scheme and with support from the Greensand Trust will design the volunteering scheme, coming up with a name for the scheme, recommending marketing approaches and helping develop a programme of volunteer activity. Volunteer activity will potentially include environmental, oral history and research and consultation tasks, assisting with the activity programme (particularly the role model project), raising awareness of the Park to other young people and fundraising for additional equipment.
Volunteer leaders will be able to access a programme of training during Stage 2 that will give them an improved ability to manage and lead; improving the sustainability of activities and learning within the Park. Training will include managing community budget, tender processes, managing events and fundraising. All volunteers will be able to access ‘ on the job’ and practical training required to carry out tasks.
Business Supported Life Skills
The project will work with partners to deliver life skills sessions or workshops led by local businesses at the Visitor Centre for low income groups. The industrial and business parks bordering the Park to the South include the head office for Whitbread plc who we have already approached for support and who are interested in developing ideas further at development phase. These business supported workshops will be beneficial in their own right but will also provide opportunities to promote the volunteer scheme as a way of improving employability and get people involved in health and community related activities at the Park to help tackle the range of issues faced by low income communities.
The project has developed links with Central Bedfordshire College who will provide 300 hours of student volunteer time to assist with the restoration. Parts of some courses have a volunteering element, and the college is encouraging students to volunteer within the college’s catchment area.
Contractors will be required to undertake master classes for the general public and volunteers in restoration skills, horticulture and other relevant disciplines. Master classes will take place at both development and delivery phases.
Signage, Interpretation and Resources
The project will provide improved signage to Houghton Hall Park to address the lack of local knowledge about its existence. The People Plan, created at development phase will include an interpretation plan likely to include new interpretation boards at Park entrances, feature specific interpretation, heritage displays and interpretation within the Visitor Centre, downloadable heritage, activity and health trails and activity packs and other online heritage materials. The Plan will consider the best methods to engage local people and increase local knowledge of Park history through a combination of physical and digital resources.
Conservation Project for NEET Young People
An external provider will be commissioned to run two practical 6 week projects to work with the Landscape Architects to restore the Kitchen Garden/ and or Formal Garden. Projects would be targeted at 16-21 year olds not in education, employment or training and would involve first aid training, a minimum of seven days of practical work and two life skills workshops.
A schools resource pack, linked to the National Curriculum, will be created and schools encouraged to use the Park as an educational resource. A programme of activities for schools will be put in place to introduce them to the site over the three year project.
The development of a vibrant community centre for heritage and community learning, activity and volunteering is key to the sustainability of Houghton Hall Park. Community consultation highlights strong support for this facility with many groups and local families already expressing interest in using the facilities.
Internally the Centre will include:
•Temporary and permanent heritage exhibitions and displays using modern audio visual technology and traditional approaches
•Children’s heritage learning zone offering interactive and fun activities and interpretation for 3-12 year olds
•Flexible activity space divided by folding partitions; offering opportunities for additional heritage displays, community meetings, activities and youth sessions. The space could also be available to hire for business meetings and events in order to support the sustainability of the centre
•Research zone with access to internet enabled PC’s and heritage and history periodicals
•Retail space to showcase local arts and crafts
•Café and vending facilities
Externally the Centre will include:
•Patio area and picnic facilities
•Outdoor children’s play or climbing equipment – heritage themed wooden equipment for 5-13 year olds
Restoration of Kitchen Garden
It is proposed that the original Kitchen Garden is restored as a working kitchen garden growing fruit and vegetables and incorporating a sensory garden. Community Groups could manage zones of this garden and use the produce. Local schools, community groups and the neighbouring Redhouse Court nursing home have expressed an initial interest in managing areas of the garden.
Currently the Kitchen Garden is laid out in a semi formal arrangement with some orchard fruit trees, the result of early restoration work funded by the Urban Parks Project. At that time there was limited understanding of the historic use and lay out of the Kitchen Garden and it was believed the function of this area was as an orchard. Recent investigations have shown that the restoration plans were inaccurate and more importantly the area, in its current format has no real function or purpose either from a visual or user perspective. Current proposals will allow this area to be developed into a vibrant space with an educational and practical purpose and with the visual impact required from a key entry point into the Park.
Restoration of Formal Garden
It is proposed that this area is cleared of scrub and trees and the original formal layout of box hedging, ornamental topiary, appropriate planting recreated. A number of aerial and ground level photos show the garden layout but further investigation into planting is required.
Restoring the Historic Landscape and Making it Accessible by Modern Communities
The key to the project is to capture the historic personality of the Park whilst making it accessible and appropriate for use by modern communities. Although the Park will never be able to operate in the way it was originally designed to do so we can restore the feel of the original parkland through removing inappropriate and modern planting, restoring views, vistas and sightlines, replacing fencing with ‘historic’ estate fencing and restoring the flow of the park through restoration of original walks and rides. The Project will also improve access to the park, providing two new formal entrances to the south and west of the park and improving other semi formal entrances. Path resurfacing of the major routes through the Park, particularly through the Yew Tree and Chestnut Walks shown on the map of 1879, and in the eastern woodland, where the kennel complex was once sited, will allow greater access to people with reduced mobility.
Outdoor Tree Canopy
A canopy located within a coppice of trees at the centre of the Park will provide shelter for outdoor activities and learning in all weathers.
Interactive / Tactile Sculptures
Sculptures will be installed in key areas of the site. These will be designed as part of the interpretation proposals using art and sculpture to interpret the heritage of the site. However the installations will be more than just art; the brief for each will require the artist to make the sculptures interactive, providing activity and interest (e.g. climbable, unusual textures, hidden puzzles or learning opportunities). Each will also provide spoken interpretation about the sculpture and that area of the Park.