Castlebank Park in Lanark is a former private estate, taken into public ownership by South Lanarkshire Council in the early 1950s. The estate includes Category B listed buildings and a vast area of parkland and formal Victorian gardens.
The park fell into disrepair in the late 80s, when various areas of the parkland became neglected through lack of maintenance by South Lanarkshire Council. The former tennis courts became a dumping ground, formal gardens were fenced shut, the pond was filled in, toilets were closed, and the sawmill buildings became increasingly derelict and unsafe.
In 2009, a petition in the local newspaper received around 2,000 signatures (a quarter of Lanark’s population) stating that the local community were unhappy with the current state of the park and wanted it brought back into community use. Lanark Community Development Trust formed with the inaugural project of ‘bringing the park back to life’.
Since 2012, the Trust has been working to restore the park and establish Castlebank Horticultural Centre. Early community consultation work identified the need to develop local skills and experience by establishing a Horticultural Centre within the park, which would be the base for a volunteer programme to facilitate community gardening sessions in the park, as well as providing a variety of training, education and workshop opportunities.
EKJN architects in Linlithgow were appointed as the architectural firm leading on the Conversion and Extension of Derelict Listed Sawmill Buildings to create the Horticultural Centre. The restoration project involved the conversion and extension of the park’s derelict Category B-listed sawmill building and surrounding landscape to create a thriving Horticultural Centre including an office, kitchen, volunteer room and Classroom.
Polytunnels and raised beds were created on the park’s disused tennis courts. The area between the tennis courts and the sawmill has been landscaped as part of the project, and the works include for improving universal access throughout the site.
Sustainable construction and technologies are used throughout: the design includes for a 3.5kW photovoltaic array and solar thermal hot water. Low energy lights, high performance windows, recycled and locally sourced materials and high standards of insulation and airtightness complete the low carbon package.
Since restoration, Castlebank Park is now recognised as 1 of Scotland’s 71 Green Flag Parks. The park’s gardens have seen transformative change thanks to the volunteer programme, and the park is now a genuine community asset used daily by hundreds of local people.
Castlebank Park restoration project funders to date have included: Climate Challenge Fund, LEADER, The Renewable Energy Fund, The National Lottery Community Fund, Levenseat Trust, Tesco Bags for Help, The Stafford Trust, Border Biscuits, Grow Wild, Action Earth Volunteering Matters (Scottish Natural Heritage), The Scottish Government Community Growing Fund, SCOTMID and The Royal Burgh of Lanark Community Council.
The area of land on which the Horticultural Centre is located is leased to Lanark Community Development Trust. The Trust aspires to obtain an Asset Transfer and take ownership of the building to ensure the ongoing sustainability, growth and community development of the project.
Supporting Statement“At Castlebank Horticultural Centre, we strive to promote the principles of inclusivity for all, respect for the environment and all living things within it, expanding our knowledge about the natural world, and promoting the physical and mental health benefits of adopting a balanced lifestyle through engagement with the natural world around us.”
Phase 1 of the regeneration project, the Growing Compound, was completed in 2014 and was awarded Accreditation by the Royal Horticultural Society. The renovated community building was completed in 2018 and in 2019 HRH Prince Charles visited the project and met over 100 local participants. In early 2019, the Development Trust employed a full-time Educational Gardener to work at the centre delivering a range of educational and training opportunities and activities.
The Educational Gardener post is funded through The National Lottery Community Fund ‘Community-Led activity’, a fund which “aims to support communities to improve the places in which they live and the wellbeing of those most in need.”
The Educational Gardener has the remit of making the largest community impact possible by working with as large a demographic within the local community as possible, engaging everyone from young families with children to older people living in isolation, people with additional support needs, those furthest from the jobs market, school leavers and school pupils.
In the first year of working, the Educational Gardener has engaged with around 2,000 individuals at the Horticultural Centre including school children, trainees, event attendees and volunteers. The volunteer programme contributes around 4,000 hours of volunteer time to working in the park, with this opportunity open to anyone who wishes to contribute.
During lockdown, the centre has pivoted its operations to be able to continue engaging with the local community and this has also had international reach with virtual workshop participants all the way from California to Dubai. The centre has hosted a variety of virtual training courses, workshops, free nature talks, social media competitions, free digital nature & gardening resources and also hosted an 8-week virtual Family Gardening and Nature Club over the summer holidays with over 100 participants.
Also during lockdown, the centre raised income by selling fresh produce boxes of home-grown organic product to the local community, and as lockdown eased was able to raise substantial funds by holding regular plant sale and information days – with the Education Gardener being the local expert in gardening advice.
The Development Trust has secured additional investment of c£30,000 investment in the park. This has included Paths for All signage, development of a labyrinth, creation of an alpine garden, permaculture forest garden and many biodiversity-improvement projects including the creation of a Community Apiary (honeybee hives), bat boxes, Wildflower and Tree Trail within the park.
The project was runner up in the EU-wide 'Rural Inspiration' Awards in 2019, and was nominated for the 2020 MacEwen Awards. In September 2020, the project was showcased as part of Social Enterprise Scotland’s Digital Showcase, highlighting its community work and innovative operations during and after COVID-19.