One of the nicest things about being involved in south Edinburgh for such a long time is seeing the changes that occur in communities. I was lucky enough when I was a councillor to have worked closely with former council leader Donald Anderson on one of his pet projects, Burdiehouse Burn Valley Park. Donald chaired the then South Edinburgh Partnership and he asked me to help support his aspirations to transform Burdiehouse Burn Valley Park and make it a much nicer area for local residents. The South Edinburgh Partnership was set up to help regenerate some of the most disadvantaged areas of what is now the Liberton/Gilmerton Council Ward. That area included Southhouse, Burdiehouse, Gracemount, Gilmerton, Hyvots, Moredun and the Inch.
Alongside demolishing many high rise and defective houses, the then government, council and South Edinburgh Partnership worked together to deliver more than £50million to build new and refurbished homes, new schools and an expanded Gracemount Leisure Centre to name but a few of the initiatives.
One area where we were all keen to see improvement was in the parks and public spaces, and funds were voted through to create new parks at St Katharine’s Park near Gracemount and Ferniehill Park and to help transform Burdiehouse Burn Valley Park. Nearly £1million was spent on Burdiehouse Burn Valley Park to make it a much more attractive space. Broken fences were replaced, pathways were built and improved and I remember looking for the first time at plans for the wonderful gateway feature that was created for the park at the Gilmerton Road entrance at the junction with Ellen’s Glen.
All that investment made the park much, much better. However, back in those days vandalism and dumped cars were a regular feature and keeping the park clean and well maintained was a huge challenge. Ten years ago a small group of residents came together to create a Friends group for the park. Over the years thousands and thousands of hours of hard work have been invested in making sure that Burdiehouse Burn Valley Park was not only maintained but improved. The first Chair of the Friends group was Stuart Gash, a wonderful man, and he and the Friends group began what is now an outstanding programme of work and community activity carried out for now more than a love of what is undoubtedly a fantastic green space.
If you haven’t been, I do recommend that you visit it. Burdiehouse Burn Valley Park runs for two miles from Gilmerton Road in the south east through to Burdiehouse Road in the west. The park is twice the size of Princes Street Gardens and I think just as enjoyable. It is a wonderful little slice of the countryside in the city, and you can walk, run and cycle whilst enjoying one of the best linear parks in Scotland. It is also a nature reserve and home to Otters, Kingfishers and (I’m reliably informed) a lot of Bats – all protected species. And there’s so much more.
The early years of the Friends group were spent on clean ups – a lot of clean ups and other activities to help make the park more attractive for residents. Tragically Stuart Gash lost his battle with cancer some years ago and Donald Anderson was approached to chair the Friends group. It is rumoured that he was told that he wouldn’t have to do much work, just chair the meetings. Anyway, Donald agreed to take on the role and the pioneering work done by Stuart Gash and that small band of volunteers continues and grows.
The Friends group still does clean ups, and this year’s ‘Big Spring Clean’ was the biggest and best yet. In addition, the group has been repairing damaged areas of the burn bank using natural willow, the group has also helped implement a woodland management plan that cares for the parks more than 20,000 trees. This is a very busy group. They’ve also run some brilliant campaigns on litter, dog fouling and the scourge of illegal motorbiking. Over the years the park has improved winning a Green Flag in 2010, a prize that the park has held on to ever since, which is no mean feat against a backdrop of continued reductions in council and other funding.
They’ve taken on ambitious projects for the future including being Edinburgh’s first community asset transfer, winning feasibility funding to create a pathway from the Pentlands to Portobello – the brainchild of Better Burdiehouse Burn pioneer and Gracemount resident Thomas Anderson. They’re also launching a campaign to bring tourists out of the city centre to visit the local area and the park, something that would have been unthinkable all those years ago when the Friends group started.
I was lucky enough to help the Friends earlier this year when they were doing woodland management. It was hard work cutting back branches and clearing debris, but it was also great fun. I think these volunteers, like so many across south Edinburgh are local heroes. They have a very active Facebook Page, and they have what I think is Edinburgh’s only monthly electronic newsletter, which highlights all the positive activity going on. If you want to get a copy of their newsletter, just email them at firstname.lastname@example.org (or just reply to this email and I’ll pass it on).
This year is the Friends’ tenth birthday. They’ve had big features recently in The Edinburgh Evening News, and they’ve featured in national publications like the ‘The Conservation Volunteer’ as a model of good practice. I just wanted to add my own tribute. So Happy Birthday to The Friends of Burdiehouse Burn Valley Park and thank you from me, and I’m sure thank you from residents across south Edinburgh. You’ve made one of the city’s finest green spaces even better, and you’ve made it a safer and cleaner place for everyone. I was proud to be a volunteer in the park, but I was even more proud to meet the wonderful people who have achieved so much. Burdiehouse Burn Valley Park’s future has never looked better. Whilst the Friends group would be the first to say that it’s not all down to them, but it’s safe to say they’ve more than played their part. Well done all involved.