Happy 10th Birthday to the Friends of Seaton Park

This is a special newsletter: on Saturday 21st April 2012, Dunbar Street Halls was the venue for the meeting of a group of people who were keen, in the face of threatened cuts to City Council funding, to see Seaton Park continue as a place for everyone to go for fresh air, exercise and enjoyment.  A small group of people volunteered at the end of the meeting to form some sort of steering group and so Friends of Seaton Park (FoSP) was born. April 2022 is, therefore, the 10th Anniversary of our formation.  Thank you to all who contributed to this specially extended Newsletter which we hope you will enjoy reading.

To mark our 10th birthday we thought a history of those ten years of FoSP would be good, but first, a very brief history of the Park itself.

The land for Seaton Park was purchased by the City from the Hay family in 1947 using Common Good Funding.  The aim was to create a park to the north of the city for everyone to enjoy.  There were big plans for how the park was to be used including that the big house itself, Seaton House, be turned into a café.  Sadly, the house was destroyed by fire in the 1960s, although the kitchen garden survived as our present Walled Gardens, havens of peace and warmth above the expanse of the park. Plans for a bowling green and tennis courts did not happen, neither (thankfully, some might say!) did the motorcycle speedway racing track.  However, the wonderful formal gardens in Cathedral Walk did get laid out and have been specially appreciated by so many ever since. Added to these, the wonderful mixture that makes up the park – its wide-open spaces, riverside walks and woodland wanders – have given great enjoyment to people, young and old (and many dogs too!), for the last 75 years.

Friends of Seaton Park : The Early Years

After the Friends of Seaton Park group was established in 2012, it took us a little while to find our feet.  Gradually the work of the group developed around two areas: practical volunteering to help the gardeners in the park itself and fundraising to support maintenance and improvement of the park’s amenities.

Volunteering in the park

Margaret Sleeman, who first managed the gardening activities, writes: 

We quickly resolved to offer practical help in the park, working under the guidance of the park’s gardeners.  In these early days, volunteering sessions were held from time to time, and usually at the weekend.  We began by helping with weeding in various parts of the park, including the walled garden, and spreading bark (to help control weeds) under shrubs, again in the walled garden. Some of these sessions went on over two days, and we dubbed them ‘weedathons’ and ‘barkathons’.  We also planted crocuses as supplied by ACC to all volunteer groups.  The number of volunteers varied, starting with about twenty in the initial flush of enthusiasm, and then settling down to around eight to ten.  Volunteers came from the FoSP Committee (as the original Steering Group had come to be called) and the wider membership of the Friends, interested local residents, and others attracted by notices of events on the group’s FaceBook page.  The sessions were informal, providing the opportunity for participants to chat as they worked, and usually cake or biscuits were shared too.

The high point of this phase of gardening in the park was undoubtedly the effort made to commemorate the 70thanniversary, in 2017, of the City’s purchase of the park.  We decided to plant a group of seven trees, one for each decade of the park’s existence, 70,000 crocuses, and a community orchard.  All plans were of course discussed with the relevant ACC officials and with the park’s gardeners.  Funding came from Aberdeen Greenspace and Aberdeen City Council.  We decided to plant the crocuses in the autumn of 2016 so that they would flower in the anniversary year.  They were planted over a three-day weekend (with some initial help from city gardeners) by about fifty volunteers, including people who had responded to advertisements in the local press.  Two varieties of crocus were chosen, C. tommasinianus (purple) and C. Snow Bunting (white).  The site, a rising grassy area just beyond the fountain, was selected so that the crocuses would be visible from a distance.  The seven trees, Spanish chestnuts, were planted by city gardeners in early 2017 quite close to the wetland.  The orchard was planted by volunteers, with the help of city gardeners, some distance from the Children’s Play Area, in the spring of 2017.  We planted twenty standard trees, apples, pears, plums, damsons, and cherries, choosing varieties known to do well at this latitude.  The apples included the indispensable Bramley cooking apple and lesser-known eating apples such as Beauty of Bath and Bloody Ploughman (a Scottish variety named for its pink-tinged flesh).  Lekky Shepherd produced a key to the orchard that is normally displayed on the park’s noticeboards.  It is good to note that, as of spring 2022, our trees are doing well, and that the crocus carpet is now one of the sights of the park in spring, attracting not only pollinators in large numbers, but photographers too. 

Margaret Sleeman – April 2022.

A regular gardening group has now been established.  They meet on a Tuesday morning from 10.00 am.   Mary Middleton coordinates this group who have continued with the work of liaising with ACC staff to work on projects as required.  This includes work such as cleaning up the fountain and keeping that area weed free, helping out in the Walled Garden, maintaining the rondels in the orchard, and, latterly, working on the Granite Garden to restore it to previous glory.

Fundraising and the development of the group

Early on we realised that to help the work of the park we would really need to fundraise.

We began with our first CakeFest – part Bake-Off, part coffee morning – in 2014.  We have had six of these and the (Magnificent) 7th was ready to go in 2020 when Covid struck so it had to be cancelled.  Will there be a return of CakeFest in 2023? – our fingers are crossed!

Three times we organised really successful big events in the park – our Parkfests.  We had a pipe band, various stalls, dog agility display, face-painting, a great drum band, bouncy castles, etc.  These were great fun on the day but sooooo much work to organise.

A major help to fundraising was the gaining of Charitable status for FoSP which was achieved in 2016. At the same time it was felt we needed a logo to help identify the group in seeking grants (another important source of funding) and after much discussion and help from different people our heron logo finally took shape (created by Lekky Shepherd) to represent both sides of the park, its natural heritage with the heron standing by the Don and the formal park areas with the herons on the Hay memorial fountain.

Our FoSP fundraising has since helped a number of areas of the park. The play area, laid out in the 1970s, with its engine, Mr Therm, and his row of wagons had been a firm favourite with visitors from the start.  Sadly, by the 21stcentury, Mr Therm was showing his age.  Money from FOSP fundraising went to help refurbish him and his wagons.  As well as a refurbished Mr Therm and wagons, lots of new play equipment was put in place by ACC around the same time.  FoSP also funded the table-tennis table. Whilst children enjoy the equipment, parents and carers can relax knowing that they are safe.

Ian Talboys (former Countryside Officer) writes of his work with FoSP:

It is great to have been part of the development of the Friends of Seaton Park over the last ten years.  The group has developed into a fantastic asset for the Park developing projects and fundraising for the Park as well as helping with practical work and events in the Park with the Gardeners and Countryside Rangers.  

Working in partnership with a park friends group might not seem to be something a Countryside Ranger Service would get involved with but Seaton Park is a great place for wildlife and outdoor learning as well as more formal horticulture and sports.  Developing the Seaton Park Wetland in 2015/16 saw one of the biggest changes in the park in recent times which, without the support of the Friends Group would have been much more difficult to deliver.  The park was one of the first parks in Aberdeen to see the return of the red squirrel to the City and now supports a breeding population which is testament to the variety of habitats present in the park.

In my retirement I have maintained links with the Friends of Seaton Park through the development of the River Don Heritage Trail interpretation panels, a project I started before retirement, as well as spending time photographing wildlife in the Park.  Not many city parks can claim to have red squirrels, otters and roe deer regularly seen.

The contribution the Friends make is also a big part of the many awards the Park has won over the years including success in Scotland and Britain in Bloom.

I wish the Friends of Seaton Park all the best for the next 10 years and beyond.  

Ian Talboys – April 2022

Over these years FoSP has helped the Park not just to continue but also to gain many awards. These have included the Green Flag, It’s Your Neighbourhood, Beautiful Scotland and Britain in Bloom.  It takes the work of many to maintain the park in a state fit to impress the judges.  Much of the work is done by Derek and Kat, the gardening team.  Grass cutting and other large-scale tasks are undertaken by teams of city-wide workers. It continues to flourish in spite of having to survive storms, gales and other weather events.  The Great Flood of 2016 (Storm Frank) was a test of the resilience of the park and the local community who came out in great numbers to tidy the detritus which had littered the park from floodwater which reached the bars of the rugby posts.  Look closely in some tree branches above your head near the river and you can still see trailing bits of grass and other vegetation.  More recent storms such as Arwen and Barra have sadly brought down trees. 

As well as dealing with these major crises, volunteering in the park, encouraged and organised by members of the Friends, now takes many forms.  Litter pickers especially are always welcome!  Indeed, during the pandemic, with extra visitors to the park hoping to use their brief hour of freedom to exercise in the best of surroundings, litter became a bit of a problem.  Thankfully, Seaton Park lovers rallied round.  Extra litter picking equipment was handed out and our park is picked on a daily basis.  This greatly aids the team from Aberdeen City Council who empty the bins.  

We were not able to hold an AGM during 2020 or 2021.  However, we have an AGM planned for 2022.  It is being held on Friday 27th May at 7.00 pm in the main Hall in Dunbar Street halls… so back where it all began.  Come along and hear more of what we’ve been up to over our first ten years and how you can help over the next 10.  We look forward to seeing you there!

*****

A huge thank you to all the people over the years who have helped out using the various skills which each individual has brought to the Friends Group and to the park.

And to Sheila Gordon, our FoSP Chair, who has done so much to put together this Newsletter. She is much too modest to say it, but a great part of the work of the Friends – the fundraising work, the regular meetings with Aberdeen City officials, the administrative efforts of grant-seeking and management – would not have happened without her ongoing devotion to FoSP and the good of the park. A great big huge Thank you Sheila! 

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