NEEDING TLC: Focus on town’s ‘most popular’ park
Middlesbrough Council recently announced £100,000 is to be spent on Albert Park in an upgrade which will replace run down play equipment and see CCTV cameras installed to boost security.
There will also be money spent on new rowing boats for the lake, which will see a new aeration system installed to improve its health, improved signage and an ‘augmented reality trail’ for visitors to follow.
Councillor Theo Furness said he feared anyone visiting Albert Park would be disappointed by what they would currently find, adding: “Investment is desperately needed and I want the council to work with me and fellow surrounding councillors to discuss how we restore our park to its former glory”.
Middlesbrough Mayor Andy Preston responded by announcing the financial investment, stating he was determined to ensure Middlesbrough’s parks “look and feel better than they have for the last ten years”.
Local Democracy Reporter Stuart Arnold paid a visit to the park to get a feel of the place and the view of the locals present.
‘Middlesbrough Council welcomes you to the town’s most popular park and hopes you enjoy your visit’, says a slightly aged noticeboard at the entrance to Albert Park.
It’s a proud claim, although one which might be disputed by neighbouring Stewart Park just up the road in Marton.
Nonetheless there’s no doubt that Albert Park has a special place in the hearts of many smoggies and has a long history closely aligned with the town.
As a relative late comer to Middlesbrough, I’ve visited on a few occasions with my two children in tow so they can use the play equipment, pick up conkers or enjoy spotting the odd squirrel.
But I confess for me it trails behind Stockton’s Ropner Park as far as personal preferences go, while I’ve probably visited Stewart Park many more times.
On this day, a late Thursday afternoon during the school holidays, Albert Park is far from full, but there are pockets of activity here and there.
Both play areas are reasonably busy, the one for younger children and the one near the fishing and boating lake which advertises itself for teenagers.
There are plenty of families sitting about or going for a stroll and a few joggers getting their daily exercise.
A council advertisement, a remnant of the covid-19 pandemic, advises that social distancing saves lives and to ‘be like Beyonce’ and keep ‘to the left to the left’.
It’s noticeable that with restrictions having been recently relaxed there isn’t a face mask in sight among the park’s visitors.
Also absent is poor Mowgli, a cat whose furry face peers out from a poster appealing for information about his whereabouts, having last been seen by his owners in Gresham more than a month ago.
Eventually I stop at the ice cream van and begin chatting to Andy Lonsdale, from Eston, while he serves the odd customer.
I ask him for his opinion on the state of the park.
“When I was younger there were parkies here all the time,” he says referring to the park wardens which were once more numerous in number.
Andy, who is filling in for a colleague behind the counter of the ice cream van, says he is concerned about “wrong uns”.
“We’ve had motorbikes riding across here and electric scooters, they are the worst,” he says.
“You worry about an accident.”
Andy says the ice cream van gets busy some days, although his boss has advised him to go try his luck elsewhere should that not be the case today.
“It can be a hit or miss business”, he adds, no doubt referring to the impact of the great British weather.
Today there’s some watery sun in the sky and it’s relatively warm, although the odd gust of wind keeps getting up and at one stage it sends my notepad scuttling across one of the wide walkways that criss-cross the park.
I venture across Samuel Kirbley, from West Lane, Acklam, relaxing on his mountain bike.
“It’s a nice place, the park”, he says.
“I have been coming here since I was young.”
Samuel says he is all for the improvements Middlesbrough Council is planning to make.
“To get some cameras in here and try and reduce any crime would be a good thing,” he says.
The roller skating park is open and I spot a good 20 or 30 youngsters either on skates or dotted around the vicinity.
Music plays over a PA system, although it’s hardly ‘down with the kids’ – 90s boy band East 17.
Maybe it’s a remix.
A kiosk in the park’s visitor centre is also open and rivalling the ice cream van with its own range of frozen treats, while ‘duck food’ for the lake opposite is also being advertised.
Down at the teenagers’ play park Dawn Bryan is relaxing on a bench with a friend, while her ten-year-old daughter Aurora Jane plays.
Dawn, from The Avenue, in Linthorpe, says: “We’re lucky that we have something like this nearby, when some places have nothing.”
Both acknowledge that the park “does need tidying up”.
“There has not been any money spent here for a long time and it does look a bit tired”, Dawn adds.
“We need a tyre swing, a big one that you can sit in”, one of the youngsters with them then chips in.
Retracing my steps back up towards the Linthorpe Road end of the park, I notice the ice-cream van has decided that’s it for the day, it being about 4pm, and is pulling away.
The junior play area is still doing brisk business, while a young man runs in and out of the park’s fountain, showing off to the rest of his family.
There’s a lot to commend about Albert Park, it retains a certain grandeur that comes with parks built in that classic Victorian style and it’s clean – I saw very little litter which you can experience in some public places.
Some upgrades here and there would not go amiss and a bit of TLC.
Several park benches need a repaint – I sat on one which lurched forward somewhat alarmingly – and the tennis courts and multi use games area look like they have been neglected somewhat.
While I did not venture inside, the ‘visitor centre’, externally at least, could also do with a more modern look.
You do wonder exactly how far £100,000 goes these days, but any investment has to be better than nothing.
Hopefully for the town’s sake its most popular park still has plenty of life left in it yet.
Albert Park – a fact file
:: The park was given to the people of Middlesbrough by Henry Bolckow, one of the founders of the iron and steel industry on Teesside
:: It was designed by William Barratt, a landscape gardener from Wakefield, West Yorkshire
:: Albert Park was opened officially on August 11, 1868 by Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught, Queen Victoria’s youngest son, and named after Prince Albert, her late husband
:: The fountain was presented to the park a year later by Darlington-based former MP and philanthropist Joseph Pease
:: It was once home to a maze, although this was demolished in 1919
:: The main gates were redesigned to incorporate the Remembrance Walls and Cenotaph in 1922 – the ones there now are a newer version, having been replaced in 1982
:: A £3.3m grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund and a £800k plus contribution from the council led to a large-scale restoration of some of the park’s main features between 2001 and 2004, while a visitor centre, the teen play area, boat house and new toilets were added.
:: A bronze statue of football legend Brian Clough, whose childhood home was near the park, costing £65,000 and showing him with a pair of football boots slung across his shoulder, was unveiled in 2007 with the help of his family and local schoolchildren.
Words: Stuart Arnold, Local Democracy Reporter
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