An Access Plan and Audience Development Plan for Mote Park in Kent
Wendy Brewin, Sensory Trust
We were commissioned by Maidstone Borough Council to develop an Access Plan and Audience Development Plan in partnership with ACTA, an independent landscape consultancy based in Sussex.
About 15 minutes walk from Maidstone town centre, surrounded by residential areas and busy main roads, sits Mote Park. Originally a large family estate, the parkland covers around 180 hectares. The mansion house still stands overlooking the lake but has been sold and is currently undergoing redevelopment into new apartments and houses. The lake, which is around 11ha, dominates the north side of the park; whilst south of it, the rest of the park is split into 2 different areas.
The main focal point is around the primary entrance and car park on the western side of the park. This is where all the major facilities are: the children’s play area, or Adventure Zone, the sports field with 10 football pitches, the Pitch and Putt area, café and toilets. It is the busiest part of the park, where most of the main social and sport activities take place.
To the east is the outer parkland. A large area of rough grassland mixed with wide open grassed avenues criss-crossed with ‘soft’ routes, worn down by time and feet. This is an area that is well used by dog walkers, walkers and people crossing from the residential areas on that side to social areas or further to the town centre. It is less busy and provides opportunities for quiet strolling or relaxation. On a clear day it provides good views across to the North Downs.
Evaluation and current users
After initial meetings and some early consultation with park user groups in January, the main bulk of the evaluation and consultation work began in March and carried on through to the end of May.
Mote Park is by no means an under-used park. On most visits, I was one person amongst many; with the exception of poor weather days (hail and thunder tends to keep even the hardiest of dog walkers at home for a while longer). Children fed stale bread to the water fowl on the lake, or played in the Adventure Zone under their parent’s watchful eye. Dog walkers roamed around the outer areas of the park or crossed the park from one side to another. By the lake, people fished, strolled along the lakeside path or sat and ate at the picnic tables watching the radio controlled boats speeding across its surface. At the model railway track north of the lake, enthusiasts rode miniature trains of steam or diesel, offering rides to visitors during the holiday periods.
On the sports field, groups of young friends kicked a ball about, or threw Frisbees. The Pitch and Putt area played host to grandparents and grand children spending time together. Cyclists rode on the National Cycle Route through the park; young wannabe cyclists were practising along routes within the park; supported by their parents and a solid pair of stabilisers.
What was evident from initial observations of Mote Park was that it was only well used by certain social groups and that some people were under-represented amongst the park users, or conspicuous by their absence. These were:
- older people (particularly those with limited stamina or mobility impairment)
- disabled adults
- disabled children/young people
- able-bodied young people.
They became the focus for the Audience Development Plan and the target audiences for improving access and the quality of experience in Mote Park.
After identifying the target audiences we made contact with various groups, schools and individuals in the Maidstone area, including:
- Kent Association for the Blind
- Disabled Persons Liaison Committee
- Maidstone Carers Forum
- Age Concern, Maidstone
- Maidstone Youth Forum
- Parkway Primary School
- Grange Park School
- Shepway Youth and Community Centre
- Various ‘hobby’ groups associated with the park
- Friends of Mote Park
- Staff from Maidstone Borough Council
- Maidstone and Weald Primary Care Trust
As is the Sensory Trust way, we used a variety of engagement methods; from ‘Walk and Talk’ sessions around the park, to Place Mapping with children and discussion groups with people who couldn’t make it to the park. We involved other people besides the target audiences mentioned in the previous section. Maidstone Borough Council employees, whose roles related to some of the issues, were included as were carers and family members. For example, we discussed how Mote Park could be used to provide opportunities for young people to help to reduce anti-social behaviour in the park with staff from the Sports, Youth and Play Development Unit. Mothers of children with learning disabilities provided personal insights into the social and physical barriers that prevented their kids from experiencing play the same way as others in the park.
A wide range of barriers and recommendations were identified as a result of the consultation sessions and it may be of interest to list one or two of these:
- Despite being in an urban area and surrounded by busy roads, the park is isolated from older people in the area through a lack of accessible public transport and bus stops situated near to entrances on all sides - A recommendation was put forward that this issue needed to be addressed through discussions with local transport companies and to comply with the Council’s vision statement in the Maidstone Integrated Transport Strategy 2005 – 2015
- Play facilities are not inclusive or accessible to a wide range of abilities - The recommendation was to work with local disability groups, families with disabled children /young people to ensure that play equipment on the park was inclusive and to encourage cohesion among children and young people of all abilities
- Anti-social behaviour within the park for example, under-aged drinking around the children’s play area in the evenings - We made a number of recommendations here but the main one was that various departments within the Council work together and with youth groups such as Maidstone Youth Forum and the Shepway Youth and Community Centre to find creative activities that would help to connect the young people with the park and develop a sense of ownership with it
Access and Audience Development Plans
In total, we consulted with around 200 people, aged from five to 85, with a wide range of abilities, who came from areas spanning prosperous to deprivation. They were employed, unemployed, worked part-time, retired or volunteers. We talked about a whole range of issues; from the lack of routes around the park to the deficiency in activities that would support young people, to the need for more multi-cultural events and activities.
Recommendations based on all the issues, ideas put forward, and related limitations all formed sections of the Access and Audience Development Plan which Sensory Trust developed and refined over the following few weeks. These plans formed part of the successful funding application by the Parks Team at Maidstone Borough Council to the ‘Parks for People’ Big Lottery Fund in September 2008.
Finally, as always, I’d like to emphasise the importance of the people who give up their time to join in the consultation sessions. For Mote Park, there were too many people to list in this article but I would like to take the opportunity to say a huge “Thank you” to all of them.