Work has begun on a £4.5 million plan to bring the history and heritage of Wicksteed Park alive to all visitors.
The Historic Heart project, which started this week, will renovate the original heart of the park as the centrepiece and social hub of its restoration, environmental, community and educational agenda.
It is part of a wider @Play project which will showcase the park’s heritage, and enhance the enjoyment of play in line with the original vision of its founder, Charles Wicksteed.
The restorations are being funded by a grant of £1.89 million from the Heritage Lottery, with the majority of the remaining investment coming from the Wicksteed Charitable Trust itself, supported by smaller donations from Northamptonshire County Council and Kettering Council.
The park was founded in 1921 by Charles Wicksteed, the creator of swings and slides as we know them today, as part of his vision to inspire and encourage play as part of families’ health and well-being.
The Wicksteed Charitable Trust was formed to ensure his work continued after his death.
Bosses hope the park will now reach its full potential as a heritage and learning resource for the local community and the large number of visitors who use the park and it will now be restored to its former glory.
The Historic Heart project will restore the central piazza and precinct which will provide an improved welcome to the park.
It will be surrounded by restored original bungalows (which utilised a revolutionary form of prefabrication) which will be used for information centres, the manufacture and sale of Wicksteed Ice Cream and community uses.
Historic views will be restored and work has also already begun on creating a heritage play area, featuring original or replica Wicksteed play equipment.
The project will return car parking and access roads near the pavilion to parkland and pedestrian areas, including the restoration of the original fountain area.
The rose garden will also be restored, retaining its original character and the upper floor of the pavilion (the Captains Lounge) will be refurbished to create a new learning centre with views across the park from a restored veranda walkway.
Among the other changes at the park, a new activity plan programme will build on the park’s current educational and community work; incorporating new staff posts, training, an expanded volunteer programme, enhanced archive project and further engagement of the community.
There will also be an annual festival of play for the local community.
Volunteers will serve as park ambassadors to provide information on the park and its history, which will be told using traditional and digital methods of interpretation.
Oliver Wicksteed, chairman of the Wicksteed Charitable Trust, said: “All the exciting work we have planned for the park builds on the extraordinary legacy of Charles Wicksteed and extends beyond the recreation park he created.
“As an entrepreneur and innovator Charles was also an inventor and respected successful engineer.
“Historic Heart and the @Play project not only secure this legacy but also create new opportunities to engage both existing and future generations with the park and its place within the local community and the history of play.”