For many people, Stanley Park became the most important destination in Blackpool during lockdown as a place to exercise and meet friends outdoors.
And as we hopefully put the worst of the Covid pandemic behind us, it will no doubt continue to play a vital role in many residents’ lives.
So Nigel Patterson, who has been installed as the new chairman of the Friends of Stanley Park and Salisbury Woodland, knows there will be many challenges ahead as he takes over the reigns.
But having retired from a long career which included looking after Blackpool Tower and the Winter Gardens, he is well placed to accept the test.
New chairman of the Friends of Stanley Park Nigel Patterson
He has taken over from Elaine Smith who has stepped down after a total of 12 years as chairman.
Nigel, who is married to Lynne and has a daughter Samantha and a two-year-old grandson, was formerly operations director at First Leisure when it owned the Tower, the Winter Gardens and the resort’s three piers.
He then worked in the motorway services industry – introducing branded food outlets nationwide – before joining a maintenance company which employed 10,000 people and included every Asda in the country as a client.
But he is clearly not a person to sit back on his laurels – or to think life is just a bed of roses – to use two phrases his latest position may relate to.
Nigel said: “I’ve been a member of the Friends group for five years after calling in at the visitor centre where Elaine thrust a membership form into my hand.
“Working with the voluntary sector is all proving new to me but the volunteers are at the heart of the Friends of Stanley Park and I’m just a cog in the wheel.
“I understand people and the attractions business, but the attraction here belongs to the council and we are just a Friends group, but an important Friends group.”
Nigel has a hard act to follow, with Stanley Park being named the best park in the country twice under Elaine’s watch.
But he is keen to look ahead and ensure the open space remains relevant to up and coming generations – and that includes promoting activities like BMX and skateboarding which today’s youngsters opt for.
Plans have been approved to convert a disused basketball court into a new facility for use by skateboarders, bikers and scooter riders.
Nigel said: “The council is aware of the development opportunities we can work together on, and the new skate park is one of those.
“It’s a joint initiative between ourselves, the council and the skateboard community. We have to move with the times but quality decisions will be right at the end of the day.”
One thing Nigel is already planning ahead for is the park’s centenary in 2026, but in the shorter term he is looking forward to bringing back many of the traditonal events such as the Hallowe’en weekend with fancy dress and the famous pumpkin carving competition.
These also help to raise vital funds which are reinvested back into the park.
He said: “Fundraising is important and we haven’t raised any money during lockdown, but that will correct itself because we haven’t spent anything either.
“As we go forward we are going to need more volunteers as well. For example events at the bandstand are not going to restart until next year, but when they do because of new regulations we’ll need more volunteers to help.”
Despite all the goodwill surrounding the park, there are sadly those who do not respect it, and vandalism and irresponsible dog owners are two of the worst culprits according to Nigel.
However a £200,000 CCTV system has now been installed to improve security, and a vibrant dog club is helping spread the message on canine care.
He said: “Vandalism disgusts me and I say to any parent whose children are committing vandalism, the park has been here nearly 100 years and we need it for another 100 years.
“Do you know what your children were doing last night?
“Also to dog walkers, I say pick up your dog’s mess and be aware dogs should be on a lead in busy areas of the park.”
Nigel is keen to pay tribute to the legacy Elaine has left behind, and his main hope is to build on that.
He added: “We have a huge debt of gratitude to a lady who has given so many years to the park.
“I’ll do it my way because things move on. And I hope what has happened in lockdown, with so many Blackpool residents enjoying the park will mean they will continue to support us.”
The Stanley Park Visitor Centre is due to reopen on September 7 after being closed since March 2020.
Macmillan coffee mornings will take place on September 25 and 26.
The Hallowe’en Weekend will be back on October 30/31 with chidren’s fancy dress, a pumpkin carving competition and entertainment.
Anyone wanting to join the Friends of Stanley Park or volunteer can contact Nigel on 07721 446038.