As some of the images on this website prove, Valentines Park in its heyday was truly wonderful. Even as late as the mid-1980s, then Councillor Jeremy Smith was able truthfully to describe Valentines as “the jewel in the crown” of Redbridge’s parks. However, the Thatcher government’s spending cuts and compulsory competitive tendering had no space for municipal pride and the long and sad decline of the park started at about this time. Lack of maintenance and funding and council disregard meant that by the end of the 1990s the park and its landscape were at serious risk.
In 1998, several residents decided something had to be done to restore the park and formed the Valentines Park Conservationists (VPC). The group started by organising a seminar on the park and its history. This was an eye-opener for many residents who had not realised that the park contained elements of 18th, 19th and early 20th century landscapes and features. From this event, the group rapidly developed and by a combination of campaigning, practical work and active engagement with the council, started to make a difference in the park and attitudes towards it. The culmination of this work was the the successful Heritage Lottery Fund bid for the park’s restoration.
The VPC continued to work with the council, consultants and, eventually, the companies and individuals carrying out the restoration work during the restoration of the park . And, to some extent, the group’s input and expertise are visible in the park as it is today. At the end of 2009, the VPC decided to ‘shut up shop’ as it believed it had achieved most of the objectives it had set back in 1998 and the restoration had come to an end.
The VPC was always a very hands-on group and held regular, monthly gardening sessions around the mansion. In addition, the VPC organised several bigger projects, ie:
|2001||The Big Dig: restoring the mansion’s east border, using a Regency-period planting scheme|
|2002||A Splash of Spring Colour: bulb planting around the mansion|
|2003||Planting in and around the mansion’s conservatory bed|
|2004||Hedge the Edge: planting a native species hedge in front of the mansion, by the Emerson Road railings|
|2006||Planting a Pathway: bulb planting beside the old golf field and under the mulberry trees near the mansion|
|2009||Going Down South: planting an Australian style garden by the Perth Road car park|
The VPC newsletters, which include some beautiful illustrations “As seen in the park” by local wildlife artist Margaret Elvin, give an insight into the major part the VPC played in bringing the gardens back to life, reflecting the history of both Valentines Park and the historic walled gardens. The newsletters can be viewed below.