Friends of Conway Park: The Preston group bringing life back to their local park
Formed in June 2015, the Friends of Conway Park is a group on a mission and that mission is, quite simply, to look after and improve their local park for the benefit of everyone.
"My wife and I lived here some time ago and then moved away before drifting back around six years ago," says Geoff Rand, the group's Chairman. "We were quite amazed to see the children's play area was very run down and with us having grandchildren now, we had a vested interest. Quite a few paths which we used to use which were completely overgrown, too: you couldn't really go down them without wellies.
"A neighbour mentioned the group and so we joined," Geoff adds. "We started off by getting the council to clear and restore the paths, which had a knock-on effect and encouraged more people to go and spend time at the park. Pride in the area plays a huge part in the group; it's a nice area and we all look out for each other, which is why we moved back here."
Having fostered a good working relationship with Preston City Council, which owns the park, Friends of Conway Park have around 10 core members and usually meet once every two months to discuss their latest fundraising efforts, future events, and other jobs which need doing in order to keep everything ship-shape.
Through their sterling work, the group has managed to raise tens of thousands of pounds for improvements ranging from the renovation of the children's play area to the planting of 14 new trees, the installation of three new benches, and the erection of four welcome signs.
"We realised we needed to raise money of our own and so, after the paths, we turned our attention to the children's play area," says Geoff, who lives in Fulwood. "For many years, Cadley FC have maintained the grass areas and football pitches to a very high standard; the children's play areas and access paths however had received little or no maintenance at all.
"There had clearly been no investment for many many years until Friends Of Conway Park became involved and so we held all sorts of fundraising events and applied for a load of grants and managed to raise £44,000 for new drainage, surfacing, and equipment for the play area," adds Geoff. "It was absolutely fantastic.
"The community spirit engendered by that kind of thing is invaluable and the pride and motivation to improve the local environment really makes the work enjoyable. It's a really nice social thing to do as well: everyone in the group has become good friends. When we take our grandchildren to the park it's really nice to stand back and think 'we did this'."
Having held public consultations from which feedback was taken and analysed by Preston City Council ahead of any work being done, work on the play area was split into two phases. Phase one was completed in July, with the group now fundraising for phase two after which they will turn their attention to raising funds to ensure the whole area has all-weather paths.
"Our success so far is due entirely to the combined efforts of our dedicated and hardworking group who freely give up their time in an effort to achieve our common goal," says Geoff, with the group having held small, socially-distanced outdoor meetings during lockdown as well as planting sessions. "We're all determined to improve the local facilities for the benefit of our local community."
Thanking The Lancashire Environmental Fund, Shepherd Street Trust, Harris Trust, CoOp Community Fund, Fulwood Free Methodist Church, and David Wilson Homes for their help with fundraising as well as the local community and Preston City Council for their assistance, the group is thriving and very much enjoying the fruits of their labour.
"The sense of satisfaction is huge when you see local kids playing on the new playground," says Geoff. "We're bringing the community together and that's great."