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Call for oil and gas industry to back £500,000 plan to redevelop iconic Piper Alpha memorial garden

An artist's impression of the re-design of the North-Sea Memorial Garden based in Hazlehead Park.
An artist's impression of the re-design of the North-Sea Memorial Garden based in Hazlehead Park.

A £500,000 fundraising drive has been launched to help re-design the Piper Alpha memorial garden in Hazlehead Park.

The Pound for Piper Trust is looking to the oil and gas industry – which has recently been reaping record profits – to support the future of the iconic green space and come forward with the cash to make the vision a reality.

The trust was set up in 2012 to help maintain the memorial where people can go to remember the 167 people who died in the 1988 Piper Alpha disaster.

The Piper Alpha Memorial statue at Hazlehead Park pictured in 2016.

It is well-known for its rose beds that lie throughout the gardens and in 2013 around 11,000 plants were donated to help with its rejuvenation.

Under the current proposals, a larger area would be created around the famous monument, allowing for a 360-degree view and improved access.

It would also mean any maintenance crews or machinery could be brought in and out more easily.

An artist’s impression of the re-design of the North-Sea Memorial Garden based in Hazlehead Park.

Current seating would be upgraded, and more than a dozen benches would be added, as well as information boards detailing the history and legacy of Piper Alpha and the work of the trust.

A rose by any other name

Concerns had been raised about how people would react to the roses being removed but trust chairman and Piper Alpha survivor Steve Rae was quick to allay any fears – and said the group would look to see if members of the community would want to take some home when work begins.

He said: “The 11,000 roses that were generously donated back in 2012/13 are not the roses that are in there just now.

“They’ve been changed over time and at a cost on behalf of the council.

“The roses that are able to be transferred will be kept in the new design.

“And perhaps some roses can go to people for their gardens – it is something we are thinking about.”

“I know you can never please all the people all the time but what we are trying to do here is be completely open as we can and get people on board.”

Chairman of Pound for Piper Trust Chairman and Piper Alpha survivor Steve Rae. Picture by Wullie Marr

Mr Rae’s wife MaryAnn, fellow trustee, highlighted that the new design would make the garden appealing all year around for when it is needed as people often use it to celebrate loved ones throughout the year and not just when the annual service to mark the anniversary of the disaster takes place in July.

She said: “The trauma that people experience something through the Piper Alpha disaster or mental health trauma goes on for years and doesn’t just happen one day a year when the memorial is on.

“We are very fortunate that the roses come out and they coincide with the anniversary of the disaster.

“But one of the very important things for wanting to change and a message we can give to people who are concerned about change is we want something that lasts all year round – somewhere people can come and be inspired and feel peaceful and be able to deal with their feelings.”

The gardens were originally designed as an extension of the Queen Mother rose gardens.

Landscaping began in 1998 following the tragic events of the Piper Alpha explosion – which is still the world’s worst-ever offshore disaster.

Tthe Piper Alpha Memorial in the North Sea Memorial Garden at Hazlehead Park, surrounded by flowers from the anniversary ceremony that was held on Saturday July 7 2013.

Placed in the centre of the gardens was the poignant and iconic monument created by sculptor Sue Jane Taylor, which features three statues of North Sea workers.

Piper Alpha: The night the sea caught fire

The statue was unveiled on the 3rd anniversary of the disaster in 1991 and features the names of all 167 men who perished in the disaster.

Work could start soon

It is hoped if all goes to plan with funding then work on the North Sea Memorial Garden could begin in a matter of months.

Mr Rae said: “We would love to break ground after summer this year but one thing we won’t compromise is our ability to have our service here every here.

“We won’t start if we think it’s going to impact on next year’s service.”

L-R Mary-Ann Rae, Steve Rae and Kirsty McLean<br />Picture by Wullie Marr / DCT Media

The new vision has been brought to life by award-winning local designer Kirsty McLean of the Garden Design Company Scotland and former Beechgrove Garden guest designer.

She has planned a range of plants and flowers that will offer visitors beautiful sights and scents year round, as well as a welcome habitat for insects, birds and overwintering bees.

Her list of flora has over 50 plant types includes the likes of brunnera and pulmonaria (lungwort) for spring, saxafragas and bluebells for later into the season and robust, flowing shrubs for autumn.

She said: “The pallets of plants we are looking at are things that have been tried and tested.

Kirsty McLean. Picture by Wullie Marr

“The idea of the design is that you have something that’s evergreen all year round so the structure remains all through the year and changes with the season as things come in to flower and leaf.

“Because of the strong structure it doesn’t get to that messy place.

“That’s the object behind it, but what’s very important is the bio-diversity of the plant. We are working on that to make sure we’ve got a spread that attracts as much insects, birds and so forth.

“That’s very carefully chosen.”

The Trust is hopeful that oil and gas companies will come forward and support the re-design.

Mr Rae said: “What I want to make clear is that the public have been very generous in giving us many pounds over many years.

“This is an opportunity for organisations that have truly benefitted from the last 60 years of extracting oil and gas to give generously to something that will benefit the public and themselves.”

The official launch event was met with huge enthusiasm from all who attended and the support was clear.

Official launch of the Pound for Piper Trust re-design of the North Sea Memorial Garden

Aberdeen businessman James Bream, chief executive of Katoni Engineering, who was at the event is confident the target can be met.

He said: “Although £500,000 is a lot of money it’s not a lot of money either. It is incumbent on the industry to support this given current industry circumstances.”

The Pound for Piper Memorial Trust reveal their “exciting” new plans for the Piper Alpha memorial garden at Hazlehead Park. Picture by Wullie Marr

Offshore Energies UK chief executive Deirdre Michie said: “I am delighted that we are supporting this significant project to redesign the memorial gardens.

“I think it’s so important that they continue to be an iconic place for us all, that will help to ensure that we never forget those who lost their lives working in our sector and reminds us all how safe operations has to be at the heart of our evolving industry.

“I hope that the industry will give generously so that we can continue to have a space and place that we can all be proud of.”

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