In 2008, the Byker Centre charity approached me about designing an exciting area around St Michael's Church in Byker, adjacent to the Byker Wall Estate.
The site was pretty dilapidated, but St Michael’s had just been renovated and there were great plans for it; a 2-storey glass-built conference centre-cum-local business centre, encompassing a newly consecrated small chapel area.
The plan was to create vibrant facility for local communities and and I was to create an equally exciting outdoor space.
Well, I went to town!
What I detail here is my contribution to The Byker Centre charity gaining the highest National Lottery funded Community Spaces Fund Award: The North East Regional Award, a grant of £400,000.
From the bare bones of 1) a beautiful building, 2) a fantastic view of Newcastle upon Tyne, 3) a useful slope, and 4) some lovely old trees, I made an outdoor area to excite and invite every age-group, and facilitate cross-generational interaction.
My part was creating the design concepts to inspire, rather than the nitty-gritty of where to put the drains, although I also produced the costings spreadsheet which went to more than 50 columns of calculations…
The story of how the site was to be used is a circular one:
Grandpa can take Grandson to the Gardening School to learn to plant bulbs, Grandson can then go and enjoy the play fountains, Mum can come along to sit in the sun and supervise her boy; elder brother comes to see the fun and arranges to rehearse his band in the amphitheatre; local workers come to eat their lunch on the amphitheatre steps and listen to the music or meander through the maze and then sign up for a course in flower arranging in the Potting Shed.
It is this cycle of integration that will make this site work and truly help improve the lives of the local community. This site will be characterful and enticing, unafraid to stimulate the senses and excite the imagination.
What I want to show you here are inspirational images that I used and my concept sketches, since the final plans were drawn up by Landscape Architects, a stipulation of the granting body (rather than a reflection of my capabilities!).
Inspiration for The Byker Maze (from Charle’s Jenck’s Garden of Cosmic Speculation):
Love seat in the trees:
Fantastic bench (seen outside the Scottish Parliament buildings):
New gates and railings: a local historical gate, next to the Byker Centre:
The before and after images below show how the plans came to fruition. I was very pleased with many aspects, but disappointed in some of the compromises that were made, particularly the maze being left out and fencing off the (really nicely laid out) Gardening School area:
I don’t like what was done here; no atmosphere, too modern/out of character.
ruined before by the wasteland; the new amphitheatre and viewing station enhance and inform brilliantly:
Set into the paving at the edge of the terrace area. A lovely idea.
This area was really dysfunctional, but became a little gem. However, I believe a philosophical debate is to be had here since once you bar somewhere off it invites rejection. I think it is better to invite people in with openness (and take a risk).
I realise there’s an ongoing requirement for funding to maintain and make good, which is hard to come by in the current economic climate, but what a waste otherwise! It looks almost unused.
The Byker Centre re-development has been a huge step in the right direction, but it lost the point somewhere in the translation from concept to reality.
I’m still proud to have been part of the transformation though!
This park, 8 Hectares, was once the pride and joy of the local community, who paid for it personally, by subscription.
But, when I first arrived, what shocked me was the sign on the gate saying:
So, instead of inviting people in to use their own space and have fun, they instantly felt resented and therefore removed from any feelings of belonging and ownership.
It is inevitable that things are damaged through wear and tear, but a) general repairs need to be budgeted for, and b) things are more likely to be actively damaged for revenge and mis-trust if “Don’t” is all you see and hear.
The Town Council were determined to change things, turn back the clock and renew their park!
This project was a collaborative one: I was invited to be involved by a leisure consultant (Philip Ball, previously a District Council Head of Leisure) who just happened to be a rather satisfied client of mine… I decided to include a landscape architect company of my choice within the team (E2), to fulfil any funding body’s criteria from the outset; so we had a multi-disciplinary team, able to satisfy any requirements of the project.
It was something of a dream team! E2 utilised their CAD drawing skills and knowledge of working with public bodies; I was able to exercise my imagination (I just love viewing towers and tunnels…) and also my public speaking and presentation skills as I assisted Philip with the Public Consultation exercise and Town Council Presentations.
We produced three great plans for the park, to be viewed during the Public Consultation exercise.
The public chose their favourite plans and park components, then we created a Masterplan that would satisfy most of the people, most of the time.
Also to be found at: http://www.ferryhill.gov.uk/services/Dean Bank Park Masterplan.pdf
The first elements to be built were the playground and MUGA (Multi Use Games Arena), for which the funding had already been secured. http://www.lcronline.org.uk/news/New_70k_play_area_for_Ferryhill.aspx
Before, all closed off, regimented and regulated:
What a difference just opening up the site has achieved!
I’ve not been here recently, and the recession and change of Government have reduced the funding available to complete our plans, but when there’s more news I’ll post it on the Sophia’s Gardens FaceBook Page.