ARGUABLY the most impressive of all the public parks in the Borders, Wilton Lodge in Hawick is on the cusp of a major lottery-funded transformation.
The 100-acre array of verdant open spaces, enhanced by spectacular trees and shrubs, has been an enduring and popular haunt of townsfolk and visitors for well over a century, although its history as managed land extends back to medieval times.
But a general acceptance that the park to the north west of the River Teviot was rundown and not maximising its potential spawned, in 2006, the formation of the Friends of Wilton Lodge Park (FWLP), buoyed by the possibility that its required regeneration could benefit from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
The following year, more than 900 people, nearly all of whom used the park regularly, responded to an FWLP questionnaire – and the results strengthened the case for widescale improvements to the land and its various facilities.
The survey, which was run in conjunction with Scottish Borders Council, revealed that 72 per cent of users visited more than once a week and that “walking” was the most popular pursuit, followed by “relaxation” and the enjoyment of a children’s play area (which technically sits in the Volunteer Park on the other side of the river).
The public felt the biggest barrier to the park being used more often by more people was the modern scourge of dog fouling, although the type, quality and cleanliness of facilities were also cited as negatives. Asked what events they would like to see in the park, the responders listed, in order of priority, musical performances, sporting events, children’s activities, family days and fireworks.
The blue touchpaper of progress had been ignited and, last month, another questionnaire, along the lines of the first, was sent out to members of SBC’s sounding board People’s Panel.
The aspirations expressed have informed a programme of improvements, the results of which will be conveyed to the public at a consultation exhibition which will take place in the town’s Heritage Hub in Kirkstile next Thursday, from 2-8pm.
It will be hosted by SBC whose Philippa Gilhooly, in her role as project manager, told us this week: “The aim of the development is to return the park to its former glory and attract more people by offering a wider range of activities, new play equipment, new café facilities and easier access.
“The proposals include a new footbridge, an all-aged playpark, the reinstatement of the old bandstand, the renovation of the café, the creation of clearer views for visitors and possible changes to the walled garden [which lies to the north of the park on the other side of Langlands Road],” she added.
Ms Gilhooly said students at Hawick High School had been involved in looking at different types of play equipment, suitable for assorted age ranges, and confirmed that funding was being sought, not only from the Heritage Lottery Fund, but also from other sources.
Alan Sutherland, chair of the FWLP, is hoping for a large turnout next week.
“We have, from the outset, realised that public consultation is a cornerstone of the project,” he said. “With this in mind, we feel the exhibition is an excellent opportunity for the townspeople of Hawick to learn more about the project and pass on their views with regard to the future of ‘our’ park.
“Whether you are a frequent, infrequent or non-user of the park, your opinions are important ... come along and let us know what you think.”
It is an exhortation echoed by Hawick and Hermitage councillor David Paterson.
“This project is a chance to re-establish Wilton Lodge Park as the jewel in the crown not only of Hawick, but the whole of the Borders,” said Mr Paterson. “The exhibition is a terrific chance for Hawick folk to come together in a spirit of civic pride and have an input into something which will be of lasting benefit to present and future generations.”