Today being the first sunny day I had the chance to wander freely with my camera, I took the opportunity to spend some time considering the newly-reopened and redeveloped Margaret McMillan Park.
My first observation (albeit with some reservations, about which more later) is that it is a HUGE improvement on the previous situation. The designers have achieved their aim of improving visibility and sight lines through the park and opening it up to become a much more cohesive space, but without making it sterile. There are a lot more paths which increase accessibility through the park from all sides, encouraging greater use.
Although many of the shrubs were removed to improve visibility, the mature trees were mostly retained. They counterbalance the fresh just-planted look of the borders and new shrubs, and were being fully exploited by local birdlife during my visit.
The seating is excellent and plentiful - consisting of a combination of big slabs of stone (vandal-proof if a little cold on the bum) and some very good quality, solidly-made park benches. The children's play area also has a couple of heavy wooden picnic tables - not the removable type, I hasten to add. These are solidly connected to the ground!
The play area has been rebuilt with a variety of equipment, although some of it does seem to be missing - hopefully the swings are yet to be erected, and haven't been pinched already.
One of the climbing frames also seems to be missing a ring.
At the New Cross end of the park, a couple of carved tree trunks have been erected. I'm not really sure about these - firstly whether they fit, secondly how they will weather over time. One is carved with some seemingly random patterns, a horse and some numbers, the other is inspired by the McMillan sisters and their contributions to Deptford's history. The latter has been rather inconveniently sited next to a bed of lavender, and in order to read the wording, which spirals round the trunk of the tree, you have to trample through the bed.
Despite my misgivings about the carved sculptures, it's good to see new benches and marble seating at this end too, encouraging people to linger and use the park rather than it just being a cut-through to New Cross Station.
New signage at each end of the park, including stone blocks carved with the name of the park and new sign posts, reinforce the new image of the area as a park - somewhere to go to, not just to pass through.
And what of my reservations? Firstly, what's with the sticky things? Interesting at first glance, but ultimately rather pointless. I feel that they detract from the nice natural landscaping that has otherwise been achieved. I fear they will act as graffiti magnets and will prove neither vandal-proof nor durable. Since they are 'planted' at regular intervals, it will only take the loss of one of them to upset the balance.
Three bike racks in the middle of the park. I hear the deafening sound of a box being ticked, and suspect that these racks will never be graced by a bicycle. The only possible reason someone would want to lock their bike up in the park would be if they were bringing their kids to the play area - but the play area is so small it is easy enough to lean your bike against one of the blocks of marble/picnic tables and keep an eye on it. If you are sitting on one of the benches you would lean your bike up against the back of the bench. If you are going to the town centre, you would use one of the bike racks closer to the shops.
Overall, a vast improvement with just a few minor niggles. Work on Fordham Park is now under way, we'll be keeping an eye out to see how this pans out.