Eight months ago, to the untrained eye, it might have seemed the very future of Aberdeen’s award-winning Seaton Park was at stake.
Torrential rain in tandem with Storm Frank saw the River Don burst its banks and leave a trail of havoc. However, as tonnes of extra water raced towards the North Sea, it encountered a lengthy meandering Z-bend. Immediately below lay Seaton Park: rapidly, largely and spectacularly immersed under several feet of dank water and home to all manners of detritus.
Yet this Sunday afternoon, September 11, when the public stream into the Park for ParkFest2 – the second year of a family gala-style attraction staged by Friends of Seaton Park (FOSP) which also acts as a window shop – there will be little trace of the great flood. Seaton Park is back to its beautiful best.
The flooding had followed a very exciting year for the park – winning the prime open space category in the Scotland Beautiful 2015 awards and scoring 85% in Keep Scotland Beautiful “It’s Your Neighbourhood” (IYN) campaign.
The park, bought from the Hay family in 1947, has extensive open spaces, formal beds, a “secret” walled garden, children’s play area and mature deciduous trees.
Judges have described the park as a “jewel” in Aberdeen’s parks portfolio, saying: “The lawns are maintained to an exceptionally high standard showing a great degree of skill and knowledge by the small team which is ably supported by a dedicated Friends of Seaton Park management committee working in close co-operation.”
Then came the great flood. Extra staff were drafted in to help head gardener Derek McKay and his assistant Katarzyna Myslek. Touchingly, from the city and beyond, a small army of volunteers helped in a major-clean-up which ran for weeks.
It was a saga which attracted the attention of the UK’s media and which has been recognised by the Royal Horticulture Society with short-listing for the Britain in Bloom Discretionary Award for Overcoming Adversity.
Seaton Park is back on the honours list – recently receiving the Green Flag Award which is the UK’s benchmark standard for parks and green spaces.
More importantly and strategically, over the past 18 months upwards of £300,000 has been invested in the park by Aberdeen City Council and other funding bodies including Aberdeen Greenspace Trust.
An ambitious wetlands and wildlife project has been completed, although not without initial teething problems; the children’s play area totally revamped; much of the network of paths upgraded; and improved drainage.
The park’s much-loved Mr Therm, an iconic steam engine, and his carriages, are currently in his Kilmarnock birthplace (1946) for expensive, extensive refurbishment and will return shortly to their accustomed place as centre-piece of the play area.
Mr Therm spent all his working life hauling coal from Aberdeen harbour to the gas works and was gifted to Seaton Park following his retirement in 1976.
Very significantly, last month Seaton Park was again the anchor-leg for Aberdeen’s entries in both the Britain in Bloom and Beautiful Scotland annual awards, and judged on its own merits in the IYN campaign.
The city has been shortlisted in the Britain in Bloom city section, competing with Oldham and the London boroughs of Havering and Tower Hamlets.
FOSP chairwoman, Sheila Gordon, said: “ParkFest2 is a great opportunity for everyone who loves Seaton Park to come along and celebrate just how wonderful a park we have.”
Ironically, FOSP was formed five years ago by local residents alarmed by reports that the city council’s finances were so dire that Seaton Park could be sold.
Near neighbour Aberdeen University was tipped as a likely buyer. However, at the last minute any sale plans were dropped.
The current city council leader Jenny Laing has praised both the community development aspects of ongoing projects and FOSP, saying: “Seaton Park is much loved by everyone in Aberdeen and we are grateful to the Friends group for all its energy. Their input has been invaluable.”
The park also hosts Aberdeen Kayak Club and provides the nearby Scottish Rugby Academy’s Caledonia Academy with training facilities.
ParkFest2 takes place on Sunday, September 11, from 1-4pm. Admission and all the activities are free.
Parking is limited but you can travel by bus on routes 1, 2, 19 or 20.