A £4.5m bid to restore an historic seafront park to its former glory could take a step forward later this month.
Sunderland City Council is waiting to hear if it has been successful in its bid to secure stage one funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) to come up with a detailed development plan to breathe new life into Roker Park.
Proposals include restoring many of the Victorian park’s historic features including green spaces, the lake, the listed bandstand and the drinking fountain, as well as replicas of the two lead ‘Babbies’ statues of haymakers that once perched high on the cliff tops above the ravine.
But there are also plans for new features and activities to attract more families to make use of the park including restoring and extending the park lodge to include:
– an ice cream parlour
– café with external courtyard
– changing facilities
– visitor centre
– education centre featuring a mini-lab
– workshop space
– meeting rooms
Cabinet Secretary, Councillor Mel Speding, said: “We want to make the most of the park’s historic features but we also realise there is a need for new attractions to keep families coming back time after time which is why we’re looking at developing the lodge to include an ice cream parlour, courtyard café and visitor centre as well as education and meeting rooms.
“We’re also looking at opening up access to a World War II bunker which we believe was intended for use by the park keeper and we may even uncover traces of a larger public air raid shelter which used to be in the park.
“We know generations of Sunderland youngsters have been fascinated by Spotty’s cave and the various legends that surround it so we’re looking at opening that up to the public too.”
There will also be a new traditionally styled Victorian station, clubhouse and workshops for the park’s popular railway, a new shared pavilion for the Roker Marine Bowling Club and Roker Park Model Boating Club and new amphitheatre style seating cut into the bank around the bandstand to improve its capacity for staging plays and performances.
Welcoming the bid, Edmund Foster, Chair of the Friends of Roker Park, said: “It would mean a lot for the park, it really needs renovation. I particularly like the idea of work being carried out to improve the bandstand as the Friends of Roker Park organise a number of concerts there. It would be really helpful if the bandstand is revamped.”
The council expects to hear by the end of this month if its first stage bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund has been successful. If it is more detailed proposals will then be developed and submitted for funding.
Cllr Speding said: “Roker Park has a long and proud history and to this day it’s a real hub for the community.
“We believe the improvements being planned will help the park continue to provide the pleasure it has brought to so many for generations to come.”
Roker Park fact file:
• The origins of Roker Park are rooted in Sunderland’s emergence as a major industrial force during the Victorian era
• Plans for a new park north of the river were first discussed by Sunderland Corporation Park’s Committee in 1878
• The site was laid out over the next four years at an estimated cost of £4,000
• The land was provided by Sir Hedworth Williamson and the Church Commissioners – in return for the corporation funding a bridge over Roker ravine providing access to Sir Hedley’s lands to the North
• The 17 hectare park opened on 23 June 1880
• It has been described as a fine example of a small late Victorian public park
• Features included specific areas for games and leisure activities, sports pitches for the newly popular lawn bowls and tennis, walks and focal points like the lake and bandstand