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Betjeman Millennium Park Trust

11 betjeman millennium park

Betjeman Millennium Park (Betjeman Millennium Park Trust)
By Flora Nuttgens

The track can be heard here: Betjeman Millennium Park(Betjeman Millennium Park Trust)

More information about the park can be found here: Betjeman Millennium Park(Betjeman Millennium Park Trust)

The text is as follows:
My name is Flora Nuttgens and I'm a Trustee of the Betjeman Millennium Park (Betjeman Millennium Park Trust). I joined the management team in 2014.

The Betjeman Millennium Park (Betjeman Millennium Park Trust) was set up by a group of public-spirited local people to preserve the two-acre plot of land between the Parish Church and the Lamb pub from threatened private development.

The former allotment garden had been neglected, but its position at the historic heart of the Wantage Conservation Area, beside Letcombe Brook and near the former home of Wantage's most famous modern resident, the poet Sir John Betjeman, made it an important asset to our town.

Letcombe Brook and the Leat stream surround the Park on three sides. They provide Wantage with water and are special natural habitats, but they can be damaged by pollution from development too close to their banks.

The Park's founders realised that the land had to be saved to provide a tranquil green space for people and wildlife and to preserve the town's historic character.

They also saw an opportunity to mark the Millennium and celebrate the town's relationship with Sir John Betjeman.

Betjeman lived just above the Park at the Mead, from 1951 to 1972. He was famous for his poetry about people and places, and several are about Wantage and the Downs. He became the nation's poet, the Poet Laureate, in 1972.

The founder Trustees were Linda Allen, Brian Chisholm, Anne Chynoweth, Ralph Cobham, Irene Hancock, Dick Squires and Sheila Terry. They first established a charitable trust to create and care for the Park. This Trust successfully objected to the development plans, gained planning consent, and raised the funds to buy the land – all of which were huge undertakings. The Trustees then looked for landscape designers and artists to help them turn their vision into reality.

Chelsea Flower Show gold medalist Gabriella Pape was commissioned to design the Park. She made outstanding use of the land's existing character, creating a graceful layout that framed a variety of semi-natural spaces, from sunlit meadow to deep shade. The planting scheme would use native species to support local biodiversity.

For human visitors, there would be a central arena where events could be held, children could play, and picnics could be enjoyed. Paths were designed for disability access. There would be benches to rest on and enjoy the views of the Park's glades, the Spring bulbs and blossoms, the wildflowers of Summer and the Autumn leaves and berries. Evergreens would brighten the Park in Winter. Huge sarsen stones would link the Park with the ancient landscape of the Downs.

But how to bring Betjeman to his Park? The Trustees were inspired to create a poetry trail and they chose Alec Peever, the distinguished local sculptor responsible for the Princess Diana Memorial Walk in Kensington Gardens.

Support from the District Council, charities and public donations financed all this work and, on May 18th, 2002, after seven years of dedication and hard work by many volunteers, the Park was opened to the public by the Reverend John Salter, president of the Wantage Branch of the Betjeman Society.

In 2011, a Lottery grant paid for the design and installation of three beautiful Educational Exhibits, to inform visitors about the Park's relationship with Betjeman, with Nature and with the community of Wantage.

And it's to the community that the Park owes its beginnings, its present and its future. Over the years, many local people have helped us maintain the difficult balance between encouraging Nature and allowing it to take over.

Throughout the year, volunteers give their time to litter-pick and manage the growth. Regular working parties, often drawn from organisations like the Scouts, Beavers, Guides, Brownies, the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme, the Letcombe Brook Project and Sustainable Wantage, put in many hours of hard labour, tidying, clearing, planting and surveying.

These parties are social occasions too, with gallons of tea and heaps of delicious cake (usually baked by the wonderful Sue Cobham) to reward us for our toil.

For a number of years, the Park has hosted Art in the Park, where local school students create art inspired by the Nature surrounding them, with the guidance of professional artists. There have also been music and poetry events, theatre productions and speakers on foraging and survival skills.

As the original Trustees have retired, others have stepped into their shoes. Our focus might shift a little with each generation, but our commitment is to the same idea: that the Park should be for people, for Nature and for creativity.

The Park is weathering well in its maturity and has been officially protected as a Local Green Space. Gabriella Pape's elegant landscaping has stood the test of time and Alec Peever's sculptures perfectly complement the Park as they age gently.

The poetry trail is about discovery: sometimes you will have to follow the words as they flow like the Brook from stone to stone. They might be beneath your feet and need to be cleared of fallen leaves before you can read them.

Our Betjeman Millennium Park is a place to stop and think, to exercise and explore, to find peace in times of grief and hardship, to laugh and play, to nurture and teach, and to connect with the Nature flourishing around us, so close to the busy heart of our town.

And to secure the future of this unique and very special place, we need the continued support of our community. We need people power to maintain the landscape and funds to pay for essential works, like strimming, tree surgery and boundary maintenance. As a charitable trust, we receive no regular public funding.

If you would like to become a Volunteer, to make a donation or to become a Friend of the Park, please visit our Facebook Page Betjeman Millennium Park or pick up our leaflet from the Museum. Every gift of time or money, however small, makes a difference. Welcome to our haven.

Flora Nuttgens,
October, 2021

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