Friends of Priory Park, Warwick (FOPP) Open Meeting
25th October 2022
Dave Skinner (Chair), Andy Stewart (Secretary), Trevor Day (Treasurer), Lesley Hall, Ewan Davies, Amanda Haselgrove, John Garett, Johnathan Branson, Jane Sault, Nick Ruch, Lucie Cox, Richard Lewis, Patricia Gannon, Matt Cox, Di James, Pam Leonard, Jo Birkbeck, Becca Woodbine, James Mackay.
Dianne Loftus, Robert Shuttleworth, Dennis Crips.
Dave welcomed everyone and thanked them for attending this open meeting.
The previous FOPP meeting had been an AGM and Dave mentioned the link to the minutes of that meeting (https://www.prioryparkwarwick.org/2022/05/05/fopp-annual-meeting-26-april-2022/). It was agreed not to cover these minutes in detail.
Dave commented that the group has been quite active this year. He initially mentioned the tree planting that occurred at the end of February. He then thanked Lesley for organizing the watering teams and also those people who were part of one of these teams. Lesley commented that the trees were currently looking good for their first year.
Dave then talked about progress on the wildflower meadow. There was a good attendance and some useful feedback at the consultation that was held in August concerning this. The intention is that the meadow will be an area at the back of the right hand side as you enter the park from the Coventry Road entrance. Currently cowslips appear in this area but are often mowed down during routine maintenance in the park. Jon Holmes (WDC Green Spaces) has provisionally agreed with the idea of a meadow, but it needs to be formally agreed by WDC senior management. It has been requested that initially the area is not mowed so we will be able to see what flowers grow naturally. This will require a change to the mowing contract that the council have with idverde, the council’s contractors. Jon Holmes had queried whether park users should be notified but this has already happened via the consultation exercise. Jo queried whether the proposed area should have a physical barrier surrounding it but Jon Holmes had previously stated that he didn’t think that this would be necessary.
Dave then covered the tree carving session which was held in September and once again expert tree carver Graham Jones was able to use his skills to transform old wood. Dave thanked ARC-CIC and especially Lucie (who wasn’t present at this point but arrived later in the meeting) for organizing these events as they are a great contribution. It was queried who decides what sculptures are created with the answer being that the ideas come on the day from members of the public in the park.
Dave then highlighted what a success the recent tree walk had been with over 50 people attending and approximately £100 being raised in donations. Dave thanked Lesley for organizing such an excellent event and these thanks were endorsed by the attendees of the meeting.
Dave has been notified by the WDC Green Spaces team that the next phase of clearance will occur at the top of the park. Where brambles need controlling, this will be by cutting back rather than any chemical means such as glyphosate. The imminent ban by WDC on the use of glyphosate was mentioned and as this has been fully supported by the council it will now go to the cabinet for approval. This will support the council’s plan to increase biodiversity.
Diane queried whether we are notified by WDC when they intend to cut down a tree in Priory Park or other locations. Dave referenced the small plan which WDC had provided previously. It was noted that although WDC are required to raise the required planning documentation when doing work on trees it seemed that the permission to proceed was then granted automatically. Diane also queried whether each tree was individually mapped and Dave said that he thought they were and Lesley said that quite a lot of the trees were labeled. Diane also commented that there appeared to be fewer trees in the park than are shown in historical photographs. Dave answered that although this was true for certain areas of the park, there are more trees in the quarry area nowadays than are shown in historical photographs.
Dave then mentioned the recent sightings in the park of the roe deer and also the photos and video of this that have been added to the group’s Facebook page. It was noted that a deer has also been seen near the Packmores Community garden. It was queried how deer get into the park with a suggestion being made that they may be using the railway as a transit route.
Following previous discussion, Dianne Loftus has added a ‘Donate’ button to the FOPP website and Dave proposed thanks to Dianne for her excellent work on this. Any donations made will help support ongoing activities of the group.
Dave concluded his report by sharing the sad news that Sally Flood passed away a few weeks ago. Sally had previously been a member of the FOPP committee. It was noted that a public memorial service for Sally is being held at 12:00 midday on Friday 28th October at the Castle Hill Baptist Church with the committal being a private affair.
Trevor said that the main expense that the group has is the ongoing annual charge for the domain name hosting for the FOPP website. Although this charge is relatively small, the group’s income has been low over the last few years. However the donations from the tree walk have helped to bolster the group’s bank balance. There was a charge of £42 for leaflets that were used to support the consultation concerning the wild flower meadow. Trevor noted that if the group wanted to promote a bigger project, then it would need to be determined how the funding required to support any such project would be raised. It was mentioned that it is possible that Warwickshire Community & Voluntary Action may be able assist with developing plans to raise income.
The only major expense incurred by FOPP this year was for the tree planting with this expense being covered by the grant from the WCC Green Shoots Fund.
Dave has checked with the Visitor Information centre whether they still have any stock of the Priory Park information leaflets but they don’t. Dave has contacted Susan Clark who produced the leaflet and she said that WDC were supposed to have printed some more, but they haven’t so she will chase them. Some of the remaining stock of these leaflets was given out on the tree walk.
Dedicated Activities Group
Johnathan gave a summary of the first meeting of this group which was held in May. The aim of this meeting was to explore and formalize suggestions and ideas that aimed to ensure the continuation of Priory Park as a maintained but unmanicured recreational area in the heart of Warwick. Areas that were discussed included:
- Who uses the park and why? To obtain this information will require a survey to be developed in order to capture information from existing users of the park. Once more information is available concerning this, meaningful engagement / profile raising activities can be developed.
- The need for clear signage and wayfinding to help visitors navigate the space and to celebrate the park’s history and nature.
- The possible development of an archive for the park. This could include photographs and drawings of the park and maybe oral histories from people who lived and / or worked in the area. It is possible that this project may be able to be supported by the Heritage Lottery fund and delivered in partnership with the County Record Office.
- Development of a common language when referring to specific areas of the park, with this requiring agreement on a series of informal names for zones of the park.
- The possibility of The Wildlife Trust taking over management of the park and the pros and cons of this.
- How can biodiversity in the park be improved?
- Development of a series of frequently asked questions (FAQs) to provide people with important information about the park. Once available, the FAQs will be added to the FOPP website.
- That where appropriate, any future developments should include Priory Pools and the Packmores Community Garden area.
Following this, Diane said that she can remember that a survey covering usage of the park was run approximately 20 years ago but nothing seemed to happen with the results. Diane still has a copy of the survey and said she would share it. She also has quite a lot of other information concerning the park.
It was also mentioned that it may be possible to get volunteers from outside our group to help with the development of an archive. Johnathan said that although the ‘Donate’ button on the FOPP website allowed people to donate money, donations of volunteer’s time and skills can be just as useful and that it may be a good idea to run a skills survey to see what people would be willing to offer. The Warwick Time Bank and Make Good Grow were referenced as other potential sources of assistance.
It was queried whether the FOPP committee have a formal list of planned future activities. It was agreed that this should come from further consultation with some suggestions being:
- Further tree planting. It was suggested that we may be able to get free trees from WDC as part of their bio-diversity plan or their Climate Emergency Action Plan.
- Improvement to accessibility. Dave has previously raised with WDC the possibility of improvements to the lower path. However as WDC stated that this would cost approximately £60,000, no progress has been made on this.
- Providing information boards to highlight the history and natural history of the park. Although this has been discussed in previous meetings, lack of funding has prevented any progress. When raised with WDC, they said that if this was progressed, then they would need to approve the type and design of the boards.
- Matt suggested that we may consider holding a Bio-Blitz. He explained that this would be a large scale community event including four to five different sub-events (tree walk, bat walk, community science etc.) throughout the day. Such events are a good way with engaging with a lot of people but are labour intensive requiring a lot of volunteers. Lesley queried whether such an event would require insurance and it was suggested that WDC may allow us to use theirs as we did with the tree planting.
A question was asked about whether FOPP could engage more with the Facebook users and Dave suggested that the usage survey could be one way of doing this. However, although there are approximately 50 people on the FOPP mailing list and over 600 members of the FOPP Facebook group, there is the possibility of people who use the park not being on our mailing list or on social media.
There was further discussion about accessibility to the park. Amanda highlighted the adverse camber and lack of edging on some areas of the path leading up the park and also the lack of provision for partially sighted people or people with limited mobility. Dave commented that if improvements were ever made to the lower path, then this did not necessarily have to involve tarmac as there are green path alternatives. Lesley mentioned the steep and in wet conditions, slippy entrances to the park from Priory Road. Amanda mentioned the steepness of the path leading towards the County Record Office and suggested that the addition of a hand rail would make this more accessible. Johnathan suggested that maybe we should think about performing a formal accessibility audit for the park with John agreeing.
Lesley said that WDC might not be happy about further tree planting in the park. If this were to go ahead, then it couldn’t occur in the area that is designated as a scheduled monument. What would also have to be taken into account is a source of water for any newly planted trees. Although we have been lucky that the location of the recently planted trees is close to Rock House, the location designated for any future planting may not be so conveniently near to a source of water.
Becca suggested that these sorts of ideas could be put on the website with a request for feedback from people as to which they think should be prioritized. This could form part of the survey but would need the right questions to be developed and the responses collated. What would also have to be taken into account is the difference between the most popular ideas and those that offer best value, what FOPP can or can’t deliver and what would be required to make any of the ideas actually happen.
Dave wondered whether we should have a vote to see which topics could be progressed, but it was thought it was better to engage with the wider user base of the park before any decisions were made.
It was suggested that a small working party could be established to progress this with Diane, Johnathan, Dave, Amanda and John volunteering to be members of this.
Johnathan suggested connecting with Make Good Grow to see if they were able to provide assistance with the development of the survey. However, it was thought that the timescale for this engagement might delay the production of the survey.
It is intended that information from Lesley’s tree walk could be incorporated into a wildlife trail, which would be available on the FOPP website. If any funding is required to develop this trail, then some of the donations made by tree walk attendees could be used to support this.
Lucie mentioned that further tree carving was planned for this year with a session being held at Packmores Community Garden on the 19th November and in Priory Park on the 26th November. It was also suggested that it would be useful to produce a press release covering the tree carving.
Committee Position of Vice-Chair
Since Dave took over chair of the group the position of Vice-Chair has remained empty. Dave commented that as well as being a backup chair for meetings, the role also includes providing assistance with the other tasks the chair performs. During the meeting no one volunteered for the position.
The meeting of the newly formed working party was agreed for the 8th November 2022 at 7pm. The next open meeting will be on January 24th 2023 at 7pm.
Dave then closed the meeting, again thanking everyone for their attendance.
Following closure of the meeting, quite a few attendees stayed to socialize. During this, John Garett volunteered for the position of Vice-Chair and it was agreed by the remaining attendees that John should be elected to this position.