the Friends and the Future of the Park
The Friends of Beckenham Place Park was established in 1995 and ran until 2023 when it was found necessary to wind up the group as it became impossible to recruit a sufficient number of committee members.
In the early 1990's, public opinion and a formal Public Enquiry had rejected planning proposals by London Borough of Lewisham to allow David Lloyd Leisure (DLL) to have possession of the park and permission to extend the golf course and build an extensive tennis centre on what was Metropolitan Open Land.
When we established the Friends group it was at the same time that Councillor John Rudd of Lewisham (an ex-mayor of the Borough) had established the Beckenham Place Park Working Party of interested stakeholders to discuss matters concerning the future of the park after the failed DLL process . The founding members of the Friends had been members of the 'Save Beckenham Place Park Campaign'.
The Friends set their values by aims which are intended to protect the park as a place of leisure and nature conservation in line with its status as a local nature reserve.The Friends was a founding member of the Beckenham Place Park Working Party. Over the years we had differences of opinion with Lewish Council through its officers but also a lot of common ground about the welfare of the park.
We strived for better use of the Mansion for public enjoyment and it is arguable that that has been achieved via the lease of the Mansion to RJK properties but we would also have some issues about some of the uses of the premises and the effect on heritage features of the building.
We aimed to increase public awareness of the park and encourage its access by the public and that has been achieved but at the expense of one type of user, the golfers, by the main replacement of another category of user, the dog walkers. Lewisham Council decided to dissolve the Working Party because the Friends did not refrain from telling them that we did not agree with all the features of the Parks for People Lottery Funded scheme. If we had been consulted on plans we may have commented on some details of the plans such as having a paddling area of the lake which suddenly drops to 3 metres in depth or a drainage system in the valley which now has no defined system of water flow resulting in large swampy areas of the valley.
Even though we have been excluded from discussion processes we have continued to maintain the Sensory Garden which was achieved with funding attracted through the Friends. We have also facilitated the attraction of funding for restoration of the Ancient Pond amounting to about £50,000 for dredging and construction of a viewing platform.We managed a volunteer run Visitor Centre from 1995 until March 2020 when no other facility was in place by the Council and the Visitor Centre inspired at least one other local group to do the same in another park.Friends groups are generally welcomed for their volunteer input into local parks and often local knowledge can advise policy from day to day observations of problems and faults in parks.
Although criticism is often seen as negative we believe that the agreeable parts of park management and changes are expected and it is the shortcomings or failings that require comment and rectification.The new lake in the park has been a bone of contention for some time, initially because it required destruction of some wildlife habitat and felling of mature trees.
The vision of the designers has proved to be inappropriate in that the open aspect has been changed by installing a fence around the whole lake as it was too popular in summer and safety issues that we foresaw have come to pass. The profile of the lake ie to a depth of 3 metres and the fact that the beach had a sudden drop from a few centimetres to 3 metres led to some near miss incidents of people getting into difficulty and risk of drowning. The lake, far from being a 'public' facility is restricted to a few who can pay and access the booking system.
Of course the situation around the Covid 19 outbreaks of 2020 have brought park management difficulties in that more people are accessing local facilities rather than travel longer distances for leisure.
Many of us believe that parks are not suitable venues for large scale events such as Raves and music festivals which are requiring large areas to be fenced off for several weeks at a time excluding the usual park visitors and damaging the ground with heavy vehicles and trampling of surfaces.
Many of these events have negative impacts on policies we hear bandied about like 'greening' 'rewilding' 'biodiversity' and 'conservation'.
For the time being although we may not agree with all the changes to Beckenham Place there are no threats to its public open space status although some of its conservation and habitat value may be compromised by increased visitor numbers, events and intensive activities.
We feel sure that any future serious threat to the public open space would generate a similar response to that which emerged in the early 1990's. At least we hope so...
Should any group of people see fit to re-establish a Friends group the way is now clear as the former group has completed the winding up and the balance of successful fundraising we acquired has been transferred to Londong Borough of Lewisham budgets for the park's Ancient Pond and Sensory Garden as well as biodiversity projects promoted through grants administered by the Biodiversity Partnership in the Borough of Lewisham..
However, the car parking within the park is of questionable design. Beckenham Place is the on