June 2021: Graham Dear on managing Greenwich Park and the impact of Covid-19

Graham Dear was welcomed to our meeting. He said he was pleased to talk to some fellow gardeners, though he hadn’t gardened himself for many years, as he had moved from being Manager of Greenwich Park to heading up the Greenwich Park Revealed Project (GPRP).  This is a 4-year project aimed at revealing, restoring, protecting and sharing the park’s unique heritage now and for future generations.

Graham said the pandemic had had a profound impact on Greenwich Park and the way it is managed. From March 2020 all recreational activities and events in all the Royal Parks ground to a halt, which resulted in an overall revenue loss of £20million, some 50 percent of annual spend. In Greenwich, the Pavilion Café, boating lake, tennis courts and even the rose garden had to be closed as its gates needed pushing and touching. There was no income from bandstand concerts, filming or car park fees or catering. The park was also unable to get insurance to cover events in 2021.

It had a particularly devastating impact on the GPRP which originally had had a £10m budget allocated to it.  £4.5m was funded by the Heritage Fund which had already begun to be implemented. Graham said he was faced with the challenge of making economies due to the loss of park revenue. He aimed to save £2m, so the GPRP budget has been cut to £8m. The cuts included the Nursery Yard reorganisation and the Sustainable Learning Centre.

Not all was bad though. Closing the through road and avenues was beneficial to pedestrians. Although the park no longer had tourists, there was a massive increase in local visitors to the park – who often arrived by bike or on foot – and used it for exercise and recreation.

Rubbish overflowing in Greenwich Park

Rubbish was an issue but the staff coped well with the challenge and more bins are now a feature of the park!

Visitors were naturally more spaced out because of social distancing needs. An informal poll showed they were much younger as well.  Ethnic diversity also increased by 5 percent.

Graham then went on to discuss the revised plans they had for the park and showed a range of slides to illustrate the programme. He said the GPRP had now begun again.

  1. They plan to preserve, renovate and manage the avenues of trees which have been decimated by diseases, pests and squirrel damage. The horse chestnuts are riddled with bleeding canker and the sweet chestnuts by ink stain disease.
  2. The area around the grand ascent giant steps and parterre banks is to be renovated. Recreating a series of grass steps on the hill leading to the Royal Observatory following the original 17th century design.
  3. The viewing space in front of the area around the statue of General Wolfe is to be increased and opened up. A café will open in the space behind.
  4. The Old Wilderness and deer park community facilities will be enhanced including a new classroom. The deer herd is to be sent on holiday to Richmond Park for 2 years.
  5. Vanbrugh Yard: The area in the SE corner of the park is to be reorganised.  There will be a cafe aimed at taking pressure off the Pavilion Café. The boundaries of nursery yard, will be shifted and opened up to the public.  It will feature a new glass house, kitchen garden, wildlife orchard, volunteer room and public toilet facilities.
  6. The seating in One Tree Hill will be improved.
  7. Car parking at the pedestrian entrance at Blackheath Gate will be removed and the pedestrian entrance will be improved.
  8. The Victorian bandstand is to be improved and a power supply for community events installed.
  9. The wildlife habitat is to be increased and mowing will use a meadow cut rather than an amenities regime.
  10. The Victorian drinking fountains to be reinstated.
  11. Two self-seeded mature trees are to be removed from Flamstead House to improve the view.

Finally, he discussed the park’s engagement with the wider community, including training schemes that were being introduced  such as three year apprentices  and  cultural events such  as the Tramshed and dance. Graham then answered members questions, and was thanked for such an interesting talk.

Angela


Graham Dear is Manager for Greenwich Park. His management has overseen Greenwich Park Revealed, ‘an exciting multi million pound project to conserve and to enhance Greenwich Park’s historic and natural heritage, putting the community at its very heart’.

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