Our Green Space, a Cumbria-wide project was developed and managed in partnership by Friends of the Lake District (FLD) and Action with Communities in Cumbria (ACT).
It was funded by the Heritage Lottery ‘Your Heritage’ grant scheme and Friends of the Lake District and run with the support of many other individuals and organisations. The project employed two part time Project Officers and initially ran from January 2008 to December 2010 but was subsequently extended to December 2011.
When you hear Wasdale mentioned, what first comes to your mind? Wastwater, perhaps - England’s deepest lake? Or maybe the classic view of Wasdale Head - the symbol of the National Park - with Yewbarrow on the left, Great Gable in the middle and Lingmell plus the Scafells on the right? Just a few years ago this was voted “Britain’s Favourite View” in an ITV poll.
But there is another Wasdale - the Wasdale of the valley floor, where a small community lives in scattered farms, inns and cottages and in the hamlet of Nether Wasdale. This community cherishes the surrounding fells of course, but it also has concerns about its more immediate surroundings - the stone walls, commons and village greens which most visitors simply take for granted (just as they do the sheep). But, like the herdwicks, the green spaces don’t look after themselves all the time. They need managing, and that takes time and money". (Community member)
Our Green Space focused activities on two very distinct but separate areas within the valley of Wasdale: Nether Wasdale, where several local green areas including a registered village green provide character and an attractive landscape for the small, rural village and Wasdale Head registered village green, a popular site for visitors at the heart of a spectacular amphitheatre of rugged fells.
"Our community scheme aims to restore, celebrate, enhance and sustain the heritage, cultural, environmental and community value of Nether Wasdale and Wasdale Head open green spaces for all to enjoy".
Restore: physical and social restoration
- Repair the damage and restore the spaces as green, vibrant areas that are robust and resilient enough to cope with future demands.
- Restore social ownership of these spaces to the local community as well as improving their visual and recreational value.
Enhance: physical and social enhancement
- Physically enhance the spaces by better management, planting, and provision of resources to encourage local people and visitors to interact with and appreciate them and their surroundings.
- Nurture respect for the sites by improving their visual appearance so that they look cared for and valued and so encourage visitors to take care and lessen their negative impact on them.
- Improve social, emotional, intellectual and physical access to the sites through enhancement work and activities that develop a sense of place and stronger community.
- Better equip the community through skills training and increased knowledge and expertise in all aspects of green space management, enhancement and celebration.
- Encourage and enhance the value of the sites for native species of flora and fauna through better management regimes and other inputs.
- Celebrate and set a precedent for celebrating the uniqueness of these greens, positioned as they are in an iconic landscape of powerful and evocative wildness.
- Through interpretation, creative work, exhibitions and displays as well as festivals and learning celebrate the historical, cultural, landscape and community value of the spaces.
- Involve local people of all ages in the celebration as well as visitors from further afield.
- Set in place management practices, systems and resources for the ongoing protection, enhancement and celebration of the spaces’ cultural, heritage, environmental and community values.
- Community empowerment
Our Green Space has brought together several individuals from groups within the community to work together with partner organisations to improve and enjoy their local environment. This included organising work parties, overseeing drainage work, administration and accounting, developing interpretation, construction and engineering, local knowledge and walk leadership, teaching, dance instruction and creative skills. The individuals involved have shown a great deal of enthusiasm, commitment and resilience throughout the project and it was said that Our Green Space “had really brought the community together”.
The focus of Our Green Space has provided an opportunity for people to get to know each other, enjoy working together, achieve greater ambitions and feel strong and proud to be part of an active community making things happen to benefit everyone.
- Improving the local environment
Nether Wasdale village green drainage work was undertaken, turf laid on the eroded edges and planting troughs constructed and situated together with part buried boulders to try to prevent vehicle damage in the future.
Other green spaces in or near to Nether Wasdale village including Berry Howe and the large roadside verges have been improved. This has involved considerable hard work from many volunteers in helping to clear scrub, remove rhododendrons and plant bulbs. Survey work has been undertaken and a management plan developed for the grassland areas.
15 bird boxes have been installed around Nether Wasdale including two for tawny owls and one for barn owls. Community volunteers have also undertaken training in dry stone walling and helped to repair some of the local boundaries.
One of the principle objectives of Nether Wasdale in Bloom is to encourage local children and young people to become involved in the ‘in bloom’ process, ensuring that the work carried out by the group is sustained in years to come. Another aim of the group was to work towards an Royal Horticultural Society Standard Gold Award. This was achieved in 2010 through the work completed as part of Our Green Space.
The telephone and postbox were relocated from the outskirts of Nether Wasdale to the centre of the village next to a new parish notice board displaying an artistic map of the area. New seating has also been installed for local people and visitors to enjoy and appreciate the natural and cultural heritage of the village.
- Cultural Celebrations for years to come
A focal point for the scheme has been the May Festival that is held annually at Nether Wasdale where maypole dancing has been enjoyed on the village green for centuries. The annual celebration begins with a procession through the village led by the band. There is a fancy dress competition, maypole dancing on the green accompanied by the band and Morris dancers. Local groups and craftspeople also hold stalls while refreshments are served in the Old School Community Hall. Later in the afternoon games and races are held for children and their families.
Our Green Space has allowed the May Festival committee to build upon its achievements, purchase equipment and of course restore the centre-piece, the maypole, to its original position on the Nether Wasdale village green. The community treasures its historic maypole that is one of only two listed maypoles in the country.
The Wasdale Head Show committee purchased new equipment that will be used at the annual event, a family occasion with sheep on show, shepherd’s crooks, Cumberland wrestling, fell running, hound trailing etc. This event, originally a shepherds meeting where farmers would come together to return sheep that had strayed on the fell to their owner, or to exchange tups, has continued as an important social gathering as the community has changed gradually throughout the years.
The Old School next to the Wasdale Head village green has been surveyed in the hope that it may be better utilised in the future.
- Involving Local Children
The creation of a mural has included every pupil taking part in work with a ceramics artist to produce a stunning mural depicting Wasdale including its landscapes, buildings and people. The mural will be a visual legacy to the Our Green Space project being permanently displayed in the Nether Wasdale Community Hall for locals and visitors to admire. The children have also produced batiks of the nature in the valley now displayed in the school, together with a large painted mural in the school hall.
Other activities have included photojournalism, whereby pupils interview, video and photograph Wasdale residents for a documentary report stored on DVD. The pupils have used this material to produce an 'Our Green Space' video of which clips can be viewed on the website at www.ourgreenspace.org.uk.
The local school children have also had days out to Nether Wasdale to take part in history walks around the village and treasure hunt activities. Cumbria Wildlife Trust led workshops with the pupils collecting natural materials for sculptures back at school, studying trees and insects, and building shelters.
Preparations for the May Festival each year have included working with pupils to research the history of the festival, looking at old photos and documents, producing collages and 3-D models of maypoles and practicing dance routines with a portable maypole. The May Festival committee is keen to continue to work with the school again in the future. Maypole dancing on the village green has been part of the culture of the community for hundreds of years and thanks to Our Green Space can now continue to be enjoyed by generations to come.
- New artwork and interpretation
Community members have been able to take part in felt making workshops to produce new pew runners for the church using inspiration from the local green spaces.
After several years of planning involving considerable community consultation, a stone interpretation panel is ready to be installed at Wasdale Head village green. It is hoped that the new panel will encourage local people and visitors alike to stop, look up and out, and appreciate the larger picture of the landscape location.
- Historical Research
Our Green Space funded equipment for recording interviews and a computer and printer to help transcribe material as well as a projector and screen to use for presentations. The historical research that was undertaken led to talks, walks and the development of an exhibition and six information panels that are on display in the village church.
A booklet has also been produced giving a pictorial history of the valley and events have been held in the Old School Community Hall attracting people from Gosforth, Whitehaven, Egremont and as far afield as London. Anyone who has had contacts with the valley has been keen to come and hear more about the history of the area.
A number of historical or educational walks have taken place either as part of the community workshops or history group activities or for school children or the general public.
One member said it “has been an enormous help to the history group and now so many people are coming to the meetings with great enthusiasm and interest”. The group is now looking to fund themselves by charging for membership and providing more regular events that will in turn generate greater interest.
Copies of the Wasdale History Booklet are available from Friends of the Lake District.
- Improved partnership working
National Park and National Trust staff have been active members of the Steering Group throughout the project. They have been involved in surveys of all sites, approved necessary works and undertaken specific tasks including leading walks, supporting the planning process and helping to organise community meetings.
The National Trust, the major landowner in the area, has contributed time and money towards the project and the local Warden, a committed participant of the Steering Group, undertook activities both in work time and his own. This included leading walks, supervising contract and volunteer work, helping with school groups and preparing and participating in May Festival activities.
Having played an integrated role throughout the whole Our Green Space project, relationships have developed and partnership working for the future put in place.
The Steering Group has worked hard to engage other community members, particularly residents from Wasdale Head where some opposition to project proposals was felt. Initially meetings were held at Wasdale Head to try to encourage local people to attend. As the project progressed special meetings were arranged and community consultation undertaken to ensure that all views could be heard. The minutes of all meetings have been widely circulated and updates given through the Parish Meeting so that all the community were kept informed.
- Addressing the problem of car parking
The village green at Wasdale Head and the village green at Nether Wasdale were both suffering damage from too many vehicles driving or parking on them. Both village greens are registered under the Commons Act 2006 and therefore protected by laws that make it a criminal offence to damage them or interrupt people’s use or enjoyment of them. For more information on Town and Village Green Law please see the "Open Green Spaces Guide: An Introduction to their Legal Status and Protection".
In Nether Wasdale, to prevent cars causing further damage on the green in the future, planning permission was applied for and granted to develop a small parking area on the edge of Nether Wasdale amongst the trees at Mill Howe Common, owned by the National Trust. At the time of writing Secretary of State permission was still being awaited for this small development. The Trust supported the application as it would provide a discreet and appropriate place for visitors to park and therefore help protect the newly repaired village green and other roadside verges. Small signs are to be installed to direct visitors to the parking and additional repair work and boulders put in place to protect other green areas.
At Wasdale Head several meetings were held with partner organisations and local residents to try to establish the best way to undertake repair and enhancement work on the registered village green. A large drainage channel was installed to help prevent further damage from large amounts of water running across the green. Due to high visitor pressure, lack of toilet and parking facilities in the valley and a conflict of interests, additional work on the village green required wider issues to be given consideration and wider consultation.
Our Green Space therefore acted as a catalyst for a Core Wasdale Head Group to be established involving local residents, the National Park and National Trust. There are no easy, quick solutions to the problems in the valley head and because of this and due to new proposals being given consideration, the work planned as part of Our Green Space to enhance the green was not completed.
- Ongoing objectives and legacy
Wasdale Head Village Green: A whole valley approach is being taken to try to address the difficulties associated with too many cars, narrow lanes, large events, working farms and thousands of visitors each year. However, it is hoped that the community, who are now fully engaged in the process of finding solutions, will eventually complete the surface drainage and repair work to restore fully the registered village green.
The work to develop the new car park at Mill Howe will be funded by the National Trust and the signs installed and landscaping completed.
The history group have gone from strength to strength and now have many members and plan on holding regular meetings, walks and talks to meet the growing interest.
The May Festival Committee have plans for a extra special celebration in 2012 to mark the Queens Diamond Jubilee.
The Wasdale in Bloom group held a successful fundraising event on the green during the summer of 2011 and will continue to organise work parties to the maintain the landscape and keep the area looking attractive.
The Grassland management plan has been distributed to all concerned and will continue to be followed in the years to come.
Our Green Space has given ecouragement to all the existing groups within Wasdale. Some of the groups have flourished through the work of the project and all have been stregthened and will continue to exist and work together to ensure the green spaces in the area are looked after and enjoyed in the future.