On Saturday 17th October, an intrepid group of Loughborough locals braved the elements to attend Perimeter Perambulations - our interactive tour of Queen's Park with artist Helen Stratford. Once the group had congregated at the Market Town Corner, Helen distributed pamphlets with a map of the park, and encouraged us to record our thoughts and perceptions as we progressed.
The group then ventured out towards Queen's Park, looking out for signage along the way. It was interesting to find little indication of the park's location until we were very close by - and even that was obscured by leaves!
As we worked our way around the park's perimeter, we were joined by several local experts who spoke on the intricacies of the park's past and present. Julie Strong, Chair of the Friends of Queen's Park, highlighted plans to insert additional entrances in the park's boundary walls and fences - or even to remove them entirely - and encouraged us to consider how the park's enclosed nature adds to its character and sense of peaceful seclusion from the hustle and bustle of the town.
Martin Botham, the Horticultural Supervisor of Quadron Services (who maintain the park), joined us to explain the complex and ongoing processes that make the venue both beautiful and safe for its visitors. The bowling green in particular requires special attention, as do the annual preparations for Loughborough in Bloom, and even apparently simple tasks such as mowing the grassy areas take on extra complexity depending on how heavily used each area of the park is, the season, and the plants in close proximity.
We then heard from Dr Paul Wood, a hydroecologist with Loughborough University's Geography Department. He talked about how Wood Brook (a local body of water) is a constant but largely hidden presence in the town, and how its enclosure in concrete flood defence channels has submerged it out of sight, but also made it a unique (albeit limited) ecological system. He also spoke of the tension between the natural process of flooding, which can be beneficial for landscapes and wildlife, and the human requirements of urban living - nobody wants their home or business to be under water!
Our circuit of the perimeter took a detour into the very centre of the park, as we made the dizzying climb up all 152 feet (46 metres) of the Carillon Tower. We were escorted by Mel Gould, Chairman of the Carillon Museum Trust, who shared how the tower was financed almost entirely by small donations from local residents and businesses, and how the interior was lovingly converted into the war museum that is housed there today. The tower was also, surprisingly, intended in the park's original plans to be situated on the perimeter (hence our detour) but was later relocated to the centre. Undoubtedly, Helen suggested, the role the tower plays in the park and the encroachment of the town towards its boundaries over the years were impacted by this decision.
Our circuit completed, the group adjourned to the Charnwood Museum for hot drinks, a well-deserved sit down, and further insights from Museum Assistant Gary Sillet. Gary touched on the difficulty of policing the park's boundaries (the gates are locked at dusk each day, but the park presents a tempting location for after-dark activities) and the importance of public art (several sculptures by Loughborough University art students have been added over the years, many directly outside the museum). He also revealed the surprising history of the museum building: beneath the floor lies an intact Victorian swimming pool! We're crossing our fingers that they manage to find an interesting use for this hidden gem, as they are hoping to do!
Helen will be collating the impressions and experiences recorded in the pamphlets into one big publication about Queen's Park and the event itself, but with such a wealth of information communicated many of the group decided to take their pamphlets home in order to fill them out more fully. If you have your pamphlet still, please remember to drop by the Market Town Corner so that it can be passed on to Helen.
All photos credited to Julian Hughes.