Funding cut may mean end for friends of park

Rachel Wilson in Ward Jackson Park. Picture by FRANK REID
Rachel Wilson in Ward Jackson Park. Picture by FRANK REID

TWO popular family events that see up to 2,000 people descend on a park are in jeopardy.

The volunteer organisers of the summer and Easter fairs in Hartlepool’s Ward Jackson Park have questioned whether they can continue to put on the shows.

The Friends of Ward Jackson Park is down to just five members and they have seen their grants fall from £5,000 to £2,000 this year.

They blame the financial climate for the lack of funds and say the stresses and strains of organising such big events have taken their toll on those involved.

There is a possibility that the group could completely disband, or give up its charity status and become a simple focus group for the park.

During the organisation’s annual general meeting, Ted Jackson, chairman of the Park Residents’ Association, offered a lifeline, saying the Friends could merge with the association to create a single, stronger voice.

Friends’ secretary Jacqui Gettings said: “It’s becoming more difficult to raise the money, everyone is finding it harder.

“People are going after the same pots of money, but there are more people and less money available.

“We have gone down the route of putting on a free event and it has been great, but that seems to have come to an end.

“But we now have five members and it’s all a bit much. We have no-one else to rely on.”

The Friends group started in 1998 and has seen its events, which also include a Christingle in December, grow year on year.

They have also been instrumental in protecting the park’s Victorian elegance, increasing security and making the greenspace one of the town’s finest.

Mr Jackson said it would be a “huge shame” if they were to disband, and urged members to think about becoming part of the residents’ group, but keeping their independence within it.

There was also talk of charging people to set up their stalls in the park if the events do still go ahead, which would mean visitors having to pay small fees for activities such as face painting.

Mr Jackson said: “I am here as a resident rather than as the chairman of a residents’ association, but I see no reason why we can’t all get together and talk about the options available.

“It is a fantastic group that has done so much for the park. We have 90 members and I’m sure there’s some way that we could help.”

Rachel Wilson was chairman of the Friends but had to leave at the beginning of the year due to work commitments.

She chaired the AGM in the Place in the Park Cafe for the last time and said people should not forget the great work done by the group over the last 14 years.

The group was set up when there was little on offer in the town, but now places such as Summerhill have a host of activities on offer, while Hartlepool Borough Council park and countryside wardens are also holding events in Ward Jackson Park.

She added: “We have all done our bit, but maybe what the Friends of Ward Jackson Park started off as has been achieved. It has served its purpose.”

A committee was not voted in during the meeting and the fate of the group now hangs in the balance with its members having to decide whether to continue as a charity, become a focus group for the park or merge with the residents’ association.