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Feature: Guildford Parks Team, And Oscar The Dog, Scoop Top Awards

Published on: 12 Oct, 2020
Updated on: 22 Oct, 2020

By Hugh Coakley

The Guildford Dragon NEWS wanted to meet staff working with Guildford Borough Council and hear of the unsung work being done behind the scenes at the Woking Road depot and in the borough’s parks and gardens.

In the first of this mini-series, we meet the parks team and their dog, Oscar, in the glasshouse at Stoke Park. We hear about their inspiring, award-winning work throughout the borough and share some of their Covid difficulties and successes.

Some of Guildford Borough Council’s parks team outside the glasshouse in Stoke Park. From left: David Winmill, Richard Anderson, Jonathan Quirke, Kevin Street, Dan Hannington, Bryan Parnell, Kara Underwood and Bryce Latham. Click on the image.

It was to my surprise and a little bit of trepidation to see eight people from the parks team sitting waiting for me in the glasshouse on a sunny day at Stoke Park.

I had been expecting to talk to a few of the staff but I wasn’t expecting a hi-vis, socially distanced audience.

28,000 bedding plants enjoyed every year in the Castle Grounds. Photo Guildford Borough Council.

My plan was to walk around with the people doing some of the essential but possibly less glamorous work, like the bin collection, street cleansing, dog wardens, environmental health, parks maintenance and so on. I hadn’t factored in Covid though or having a dog present.

“Oscar’s part of the family here,” said Richard Anderson, the horticultural manager, quietly spoken but clearly the senior person in the group, as he co-ordinated the responses from the team.

Meaningful looks between Richard Anderson, Kara Underwood and David Winmill with Oscar. “He’s part of the family,” said Richard.

The informal chat with the team showed a pride in what they do but also a strong commitment to working for Guildford and the borough. They were keen to point out they weren’t contractors who were doing the bare minimum to fulfil their contractual obligations.

Celebrating the Green Flag award for Stoke Park. Photo Guildford Borough Council.

The 10 Green Flag awards and the 2020 Tripadvisor Travellers’ Choice award are evidence of the team’s success. “We’ve had people up from London just to see our parks,” said Richard. “I think we are the only direct labour parks team in Surrey and it shows. The standards in-house are better than other councils.

“You would be surprised at the qualifications some of these guys have.”

The boating lake at Stoke Park Gardens. Photo Guildford Borough Council.

And it is gems in Stoke Park like the boating lake (the only one of its kind within 50 miles), the Japanese gardens (gradually being restored to the original concept dating 1935) and the ever-popular paddling pool that makes such a difference to Guildford.

Bryce Latham on repair works to the boating lake in the Japanese garden. Photo Guildford Borough Council.

It is a wide and varied workload. Groundsman David Winmill said his work on the sports fields and parks take him all over the borough, from East Horsley to Ash, Gomshall to Holmbury St Mary.

He added: “We get hand-written letters from people appreciating the gardens, especially during the lockdown.

“But there have been huge amounts of litter, at least twice as much as normal. Day after day, we were picking up Budweiser bottles. Why Budweiser, I don’t know.”

Drone photo of the VE Day sign in Stoke Park in May 2020. It was set out by David Winmill in the centre. Photo Guildford Borough Council.

The grounds maintenance team leader, Jonathan Quirke, told of the co-operation with other organisations. “We help the National Trust twice a year at Dapdune Wharf to launch The Dapdune Belle. They give us some contract work so it works out well.”

The mobile works team leader, Bryan Parnell, who has a degree in countryside management, said: “We have been seeding a lot of wildflower areas over the last couple of years and the results are just starting to show now.”

Richard Anderson said: “They are too modest. There are lots of wildflowers now in so many areas.”

The list of what they do is staggering; mowing over 2.2 million square metres of grass, 300 hanging baskets, 70,000 sq metres of shrub beds and hedgerows, 28,000 bedding plants at Guildford Castle Grounds annually, as well as the 65 parks and gardens and 65 play areas.

Castle Grounds. Photo Guildford Borough Council.

Kevin Street, who has worked with the council for 40 years, looks after the baskets and flower beds with his team. He also maintains the sponsored roundabouts. He said: “They are much sought after by companies wanting a sustainable advert. They bring in between £2,000 and £5,000 a year for each roundabout.”

Bryce Latham maintains and fixes the 2,000 items of infrastructure in the team’s inventory. “Every day is different,” said Bryce. “Yesterday we had a crash in Bellfields and we had to repair the posts and bollards damaged by the crash.

Japanese garden planting team. Photo Guildford Borough Council.

And then there is the techie member of staff, Dan Hannington. Dan runs and updates the geographic information systems (GIS) which maps and records all of the park assets and the ongoing work carried out by the team.

“It has taken three years to get it to a good standard that it can be properly used,” he said. “I hope it will be available to the public at some time but there is more work to do on it before that happens.”

VJ Day sign taken by Dan Hannington’s drone on a parched August day in Stoke Park. Photo Guildford Borough Council.

Dan also is responsible for taking progress photos of the work and operating the drone. That has come in very handy in identifying leaking pipes that would otherwise have gone undetected and finding a spring in the Japanese garden which is now used to top up the boating lake.

Amenity and horticulture support officer Kara Underwood keeps the team ticking over by ordering equipment and sorting out IT. She also drafts tenders, liaises with contractors and checks their work. “I love it and the people I work with,” she said.

I was only with the team for a couple of hours but I was impressed. It seems to me that our council is getting it right here, They are doing more than their statutory obligation but we all benefit from the efforts of the team in ways that are hard to quantify but so easy to appreciate.

Guildford would be a poorer place without our parks, gardens and sportsfields.

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Responses to Feature: Guildford Parks Team, And Oscar The Dog, Scoop Top Awards

  1. John Lomas Reply

    October 12, 2020 at 11:02 am

    Back in the early 1960s I used to take my lunch hours at Allen House Grounds. I would sometimes have a solo round on the putting course.

    During this time I got to know the groundskeeper who looked after the putting, bowling and tennis facilities, his name was Alan (can’t remember his other name) and he introduced me to the Guildford Outlaws Cricket Club who played at Stoke Par. I had a couple of seasons playing with them.

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