The People’s Project Dumfries is a group of volunteers who have recently become a charity. Our objectives include transforming neglected areas around the town, promoting advancement of education, community development and environmental protection and improved biodiversity. From 2019 our biggest project has been the upgrading and development of Castledykes Park which had become neglected, underused and was falling into decline due to lack of manpower. When we heard that Dumfries council were planning to grass over the flowerbeds in order to cut down on work we offered to help with the upkeep of the beds. What started as a gardening project has grown considerably as we became more aware of what could be achieved and what the community wanted.
The park is about 1 mile from the town centre and covers about 12 acres, which is mostly laid out to grass and an amazing variety of shrubs and trees. The land is of significant historical interest as it contains traces of a medieval castle and is where in 1306, Robert the Bruce raised his standard signaling the start of the Scottish Wars of Independence. In later years it became the garden of a Georgian mansion, then a quarry and a sewage works before becoming a public park. It has seen many changes.
During the lockdowns following the outbreak of Covid-19 we noticed a significant increase in the number of people using the park to benefit their health and wellbeing. We decided to carry out a survey to find out how people wanted the park to develop. We created a questionnaire which was filled in by local people and was also sent out to schools. From the returns we discovered what people wanted. The results showed a need for quiet areas with seating for relaxation and reflection, opportunities to watch wildlife, more diverse planting to support biodiversity and information about the history of the area. A shelter for inclement weather was also requested by schools in particular as well as improved facilities for exercise.
It was clear that the park was well loved but many people had stopped visiting because it had become rundown and neglected. Some people mentioned that it was untidy and that there was sometimes antisocial behavior and littering. Many older people remembered when the park had its own gardeners and park keeper. Sadly Castledykes no longer has dedicated gardeners but the council groundsmen still cut the grass, empty bins and cover general maintenance. After several productive meetings with local councilors they agreed to provide us with gardening tools, plants when needed, compost and mulch. We were given a certificate of comfort to enable us to work at Castledykes to upgrade and improve it. In 2019 the redevelopment of the park began in earnest as we started our journey to return it to a place that was used and enjoyed by the people of Dumfries.
Supporting StatementBased on the information that was returned following our questionnaire we decided on the following actions.
A statue of Robert the Bruce was carved by a local chainsaw artist and erected in the centre of what was formerly the quarry, and now known as the Sunken Garden.
We researched the history, geology and biodiversity of the park and developed interpretation boards with the help of a local graphic designer. These are displayed around the park. They have QR codes with links to other information and are useful for teachers planning.
Local schoolteachers and councilors were invited for a guided tour of the park.
Large magnifying posts were installed with money donated by Tesco.
Bird, bat, bug and hedgehog habitats were installed which were made by inmates of Dumfries Prison using wood supplied by a local timber company. Wood offcuts and seconds were used
The prison inmates also made planters and are currently making posts for an orienteering course to be installed at Castledykes.
A native wildflower border was planted incorporating log piles, beetle buckets and nettle buckets.
Flower borders were replanted with perennial plants for sustainability incorporating pollinators friendly plants. This has improved biodiversity.
A quiet seating area with sensory planting has been developed.. Seats sponsored by local organizations
An area of the park which floods when the nearby river floods has been replanted with suitable plants for wet soil.
A shelter large enough to seat a class of schoolchildren has been built. It has a cedar shingle roof and was chosen to blend in with the surroundings. This is often used by visitors to the park and had a path suitable for wheelchairs.
A large ugly concrete tank from the period when the land was a sewage plant has been transformed by a local artist with a tableau depicting the history of Dumfries.
The area that floods has been developed as a bog garden and supports frogs and toads.
In some areas of the park we were not allowed to dig more than 4 inches deep due to the historic nature of the site unless there was an archaeologist present. When digging the foundations for the shelter a local archaeologist attended and was perhaps hoping that something interesting might be uncovered. This would have meant stopping work. We crossed our fingers and were glad that all that turned up was a plastic golf tee circa 1990.
A local stonemason guilts plinths with local sandstone to support the interpretation boards in this area.
Castledykes Park has now become an outdoor classroom with areas for people of all ages to relax, learn and play. We hope that this beautiful old park continues to be cherished and enjoyed by the community for years to come. Many organisations have helped along the way and we have enjoyed engaging with them and the local community. .