“I think a park should be full of people.”

A lady sits in Longford Park surrounded by nature

Longford Park in Stretford, Greater Manchester, is the largest municipal park in Trafford. Dating back to 1857, when it formed the Rylands estate, it became a public park in the early 20th century and is home to many heritage features. It is now the focus of a Stage 1 heritage project looking at who currently uses Longford Park (and who doesn’t), how it is currently used and why, how it could be used in the future and other audience development topics. As part of this bigger project, People’s Voice Media has been working with City of Trees to use Community Reporting as a tool for gathering the stories of people who live and/or work in Trafford about how they use (or don’t use) green spaces. The stories (which can be viewed here) have been curated and the insights from these have been written up in an insight report. We've published an abridged version of the findings here.

“We could do with maybe better parking, and lighting facilities and stuff.”

Many of the stories highlight that Longford Park’s infrastructure and facilities are very important to the people who use it, and that they would like to see improvements to both. Issues such as litter, toilets, lighting, parking and flooding are mentioned frequently by storytellers. “There are quite a lot of volunteers who are picking up litter That's one of my bugbears: litter. There are not enough litter bins in the park, there has never been enough litter bins in the park and I find that really upsetting,” says one person who has lived in the area for 39 years. Another person who visits the park with children has this to add:

I feel like they could put a second bin in the play area near the café because there's only one bin in that play area so if you're on one side with a group of children - which I often am - you have to walk quite a distance to the bin and then get yourself back to the children that you're caring for. That's quite inconvenient.

Toilets are another cause of consternation. “I find the toilets a little bit problematic as in there isn't very many and they're in the café and if the café shuts..." says one mother who uses the park with her children. Another person who uses the park as both a parent and childminder goes in to more detail on why the existing toilet facilities hinder people’s use of Longford Park:

The toilet area [could be improved] and also if it was open for longer, but I suppose it's open when the café’s open but, like, we've been here past five o'clock and then somebody's gone ‘oh, I need the toilet,’ and you're like, ‘right, we're gonna have to go.’ So, on a day that we wouldn't have ordinarily left then we've had to kind of cut short because she's getting too old to do what we call a wild wee.

Another infrastructure issue that causes access problems is flooding, and multiple storytellers mention it as something that needs to be improved as soon as possible. Although it’s understood generally in most of the stories gathered that the source of the flooding has been identified and remedial action has been taken, there appears to be some scepticism as to whether it has worked, as well as upset as to how long it has taken previously for floodwater to be cleared. One lady, who uses the park with her grandchildren, says, “They do need to check on the drainage because there are times, particularly near the bowling green where the paths are absolutely flooded and there's no chance of walking round them at all.” 

These facilities and infrastructure issues are, for the most part, solvable – more bins, more accessible toilets, resolved flooding – but they do require time and budget. However, this investment would likely see an improved park environment which has the potential to see more visitors to the park, and longer stays in the park. After all, as one person put it, “a park should be full of people.”

“I was really struck by all the different areas that there were” 

One of the things people love about Longford Park is the diversity of its spaces and the different uses to which they are and can be put. “I was really struck by all the different areas there were,” says one person, who does not live locally but used Longford Park during lockdown in order that her family could meet with a friend’s family outdoors. She goes on to add:

I was still a little bit cautious of being out in public and I wasn't really into the children using the play equipment, so she took me through to the rock gardens and we spent a really lovely afternoon there. The children could just climb and use their imaginations and be wild, and even though it was busy it didn't feel too busy, it felt OK.

Another mother says, “There's just loads of different areas within it so it's a really flexible place to go with every member of the family,” and this flexibility seems to be appealing to many of the storytellers.

Several of the stories express a desire for more events such as festivals to take place in the park, particularly because they would draw in people who would not normally visit Longford Park and allow them to experience it. This is echoed in the story of one person who does not usually visit Longford. They say they are more likely to use a park when there is a funfair.

While people are reasonably happy with the spaces in the park and the way in which they are used, they do express room for improvements. The person who does not usually visit Longford says an issue with most parks is that they don’t have activity areas for older teens and adults with zip wires and so on: “I think they should, I really think they should.” While a man who does use the park suggests improvements could be made to the existing play area: “Maybe extend the play area because often there are so many children there it's difficult to get on anything.”

The flexible nature of the spaces at Longford Park, then, is of great value to the people who visit it, as it gives them choice about how to spend their time there, as well as different activities for different age groups. However, many storytellers don’t feel the park is making the most of its space, and that it could attract more visitors by hosting events and by improving or adding to the amenities.

“At this time of the year I almost think of it as like walking into an art gallery” 

As might be imagined, the park as a natural space is important to many of the storytellers. People find the opportunity to be in nature – particularly within what is an urban environment – to be relaxing and important to their wellbeing.One person who visits the park daily says:

If we're feeling stressed at all, we'll come here because - we were just saying as you got here - the animals, you don't really get that in other parks where they're as friendly as what they are in this park I find. People are so chilled here, the animals feel like - you know they're not scared. There's so many different aspects, there's these gardens, the fields for the dogs to run around, the café, the playground at that end, there’s even a little pond over there you can go looking for newts.

The park’s trees are a favourite with many. “It’s lovely to be around such big trees,” says one person, while a dogwalker adds. “I just love coming out to the greenery and trees,” describing the park as their “home.” Another regular visitor to the park expands on the beauty she finds in the trees:

And when autumn comes I come into the park and the whole of that field is surrounded by trees, mature trees and a whole variety of different types of trees, and I find at this time of the year I almost think of it as like walking into an art gallery.

To have such natural beauty in what is otherwise an urban area is clearly a great boon to the people who visit the park and seems to be a big draw. It is mentioned in one form or another by most storytellers – with ideas around nature and being “wild” being important to many. One such person, who visits with their family says: “I have to say a lot of the time we don't rely on the playground we're in this bit we do the gardens and the wild stuff like sticks, trees and climbing.” It is not often in an urban environment that people can enjoy activities in the wild and it’s clear that the park makes nature accessible.

However, people do flag areas where there is room for improvement. Some people feel that there could be more made of the gardens, with more colour and flowers, This is highlighted by one grandparent who frequents the park:

There are some flowerbeds which are very, very pretty, but I don't think there are enough. ... I'm not a massive fan of rose gardens, but to have some colour, the resurrection of some of the rose gardens and to have some colour would be nice.

However, others feel that there is a little too much by way of landscaped garden and suggest that some “rewilding” could take place to make the park even more wild and natural. This is highlighted in this mum’s story:

Keep the flexible spaces but I wonder if it could do with feeling a bit wilder and truer to nature, because it’s quite manicured in areas and I guess it would be nicer to feel like you could look at the horizon and feel like you're in nature.

As the park is already noted for its use of different spaces, it could be that there is room for more manicured gardens, while also allowing some areas to be reclaimed by nature.

Conclusions

The stories have highlighted that Longford Park is a well-loved park by those who use it, but that there is room for improvement and that perhaps more could be done to attract newcomers. On the basis of the stories gathered for this project, these are our recommendations for the park’s future:

  • Make improvements to infrastructure and facilities;
  • Make the most of the park’s spaces;
  • Bolster Longford Park’s status as a natural beauty spot.

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