QCG Update April 2016

Last updated: 11th April 2016


QCG Update April 2016

The First Shoots of Regeneration Herald a New Era for Queen's Crescent Garden!

Few in St James can have failed to notice the hive of activity Queen's Crescent Garden became this spring, nor the improvements that have been achieved since it was chosen as one of just 87 pocket parks nationwide to receive funding from the Government's Pocket Park Programme. Of a total £13,000, awarded to the Trust with the City Council as fundholding partner, the £10,000 capital element was used to make a welcome start on much needed clearance and repair work on the perimeter.

The QCG Project Group, set up by the Forum to initiate and bring the community's top priority project to fruition, has been thrilled by the enthusiasm and level of support that has developed. As the sight lines were opened up by removal of shrubby vegetation, reducing the attractiveness of the space for anti-social activity, and a new entrance into the Garden from Longbrook Street was created, interest of passers-by soared. The erection of a noticeboard, funded in large part by a welcome donation of £375 from John Lewis' Community Matters green token scheme, was essential if the builders were to be able to focus on the practical work instead of answering the questions of all who stopped to enquire and without exception express delight!

There has been a tremendous demonstration of goodwill starting with student residents of a house overlooking the garden taking hot cups of tea to the builders on the first cold, wet morning, through to valuable self-initiated neighbourhood watch when a brick-thief was spotted helping himself to bricks that had been carefully salvaged and cleaned ready for re-use. Little chance of a recurrence with the eyes of the community acting for us all! Donations of further bricks from local residents and Polish builders saved some £700 from the materials' bill, and one resident, not an existing member of either Forum or Trust but delighted at the clearance and repair work, came forward with a generous donation of £100 to help purchase more bricks.

Other match-funding contributions have been gratefully received from a number of sources. Through Cllr. Jill Owen £5000 from DCC's Locality Budget was secured and £500 received from University of Exeter's Streetwise Fund thanks to Community Liaison Officer Rory Cunningham and Director of Campus Services, Phil Attwell.

National Green Services Provider, Glendale, made a very generous 'in-kind' donation providing professional teams, free of labour and equipment cost, to carry out specific tasks over a total of four days, representing a contribution in excess of £2000. Two days were spent on a thorough litter-pick and clearance of the shrubby vegetation and they are to return at the right time to carry out further tasks. Mike Dennys, senior estimator at Glendale, said: “Protecting green spaces is our bread and butter, so we were only too happy to get involved with this fantastic project. Gardens like this one can really create a sense of local pride, and we’re pleased to be helping restore a space which the community can feel proud of.” £375 donated by John Lewis from the store's Community Matters green token scheme last autumn facilitated the purchase of a noticeboard so passers-by can find information about the Project and keep abreast of its progress.

Donations received since 2014, including £495 from Exeter Round Table, £50 from Exeter Spiritualist Church and a further £500 from the University's Streetwise Fund have also been used as match-funding, together with the proceeds of the various refreshment, plant and table-top sales organised by the Forum and Project Group. All was used to keep the bricklayers working for as long as possible.

As the work started it was hoped that much of the perimeter wall could be repaired with the current funding, but very quickly sections of wall near the Longbrook Street / York Road corner were found to be in a much poorer state even than expected. Instead of simply re-pointing and replacing broken bricks, it became clear that the only sensible option would be to take the worst sections down before rebuilding from scratch, accepting that this would result in the limitation of the repair work to the top end of the Longbrook Street wall and the York Road wall until further funding can be sought once the CPO has been completed. Rebuilding the existing wall where one of the new entrances is shown on the Masterplan would have been a waste of time, money and effort, so we were very grateful that LDA Design, who had produced the Masterplan in consultation with the community in 2014, came to the rescue at no charge with some rapidly produced drawings sufficient to guide the builders in construction of the walls for the new entrance.

The QCG Project group was delighted that this award, unusual in being made available to community groups who do not have ownership or lease of the land, meant that the first and highly significant improvements to the boundary could be made while Exeter City Council continues to undertake the compulsory acquisition of Queen's Crescent Garden. The much more comprehensive and ambitious regeneration work detailed in the community's Masterplan, remains on hold until the compulsory purchase is complete and the Trust signs a long-term lease with the Council. It is only at that stage that the Trust will be able to submit the necessary bids acceptable to the major funding bodies. However, in addition to the £10,000 for capital work this spring, a further £3,000 from the Pocket Park Programme was awarded for revenue costs and this has funded a topographical survey and more detailed drawings of the three proposed new entrances and for the setting out of the new path layout, in readiness for the implementation of the Masterplan.

It was a requirement of the Pocket Park award that the money was spent by the end of March, and now that the daily sound of chisel on brick has faded away, we are left to contemplate what has been achieved and to galvanise ourselves for the next phase, post CPO, when the work on the walls will be completed and next steps of the project undertaken. We shall not be idle though! The sound of lawnmower has already replaced the hammer and chisel as our volunteer teams have got to work, and in the coming weeks working parties will tackle the forking and raking of the borders. A group from the University's Environment Society of Exeter Student Volunteers, descended on the Garden to start this long job of on 23 March, before enjoying what surely must have been the first informal picnic event of the year in the Garden! Much further work is required and the Project Group warmly invites anyone who would like to spend an hour - or more(!) - making a practical contribution to this community project, to contact at info@exeterstjamesforum.org. Many hands will make light work, so do join in! Details of working parties will be emailed to all on our contact list.

A Further Tree Judged a Hazard to the Highway

The fierce winds that were experienced during the work revealed it was not only sections of wall that were in a fragile state. The tall evergreen Lawson's cypress tree by the gated entrance from Longbrook Street gave the builders a scare when it could be seen rocking at the base, and subsequently Devon County Council Highways called in experts who have decided the tree does present a danger to the highway, so must be felled within the next six months.

This follows on from a similar decision last autumn when an ash presented such a danger to York Road that it had to be felled immediately, the trunk now left standing as a sad reminder of a once beautiful tree. A large branch from another ash was left partially-detached and requiring urgent professional attention, though as it was too far away from the boundary to present a danger to the highway, DCC was not obliged to order the felling.

The urgent tree surgery over the last year revealed a significant problem relating to unknown ownership of the land. The cost of such work, the responsibility of the owner, could not be recouped as no-one claims ownership! Following the compulsory purchase and signing of lease, the Trust will assume legal responsibility for such costs, but until that time legal advice has been that it would be inappropriate and unwise to accept such responsibility. Faced with the prospect that a dangerous branch, with dying litter covering a large area of grass, would remain in the Garden, we were all delighted when Devon Tree Services stepped in, offering to carry out the surgery and clearance free of charge as a wonderful gesture of support for the community project!

The last tree survey to be undertaken many years ago identified a number of trees that were already showing their age and in poor condition, so we shouldn't be too surprised by the recent events, but accepting responsibility in our turn, as leaseholders, to provide beautiful specimens for future generations to enjoy, we are delighted that the project already has support of experts and companies with expertise in the supply and care of large mature specimens who will be willing to advise the Trust when the time comes.

Watch out for Announcement of an Event to Celebrate this Spring's Achievements

An event in the Garden to celebrate what has been achieved so far, is being planned for the warmer weather, and we hope to welcome existing Forum and Trust members as well as others who are interested in finding out a bit more about this project which is inspiring people in St James, the wider city and even further afield!

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