Antrim Castle Gardens wins ‘best park in NI’ award

Representatives from each of the shortlisted parks receiving Awards from former international footballer and trustee of Fields in Trust Graeme Le Saux and TV sports presenter Jill Douglas.
Representatives from each of the shortlisted parks receiving Awards from former international footballer and trustee of Fields in Trust Graeme Le Saux and TV sports presenter Jill Douglas.

Antrim Castle Gardens has been named the best park in Northern Ireland and has also been shortlisted in the UK’s Best Park after a search to find the country’s favourite local green space.

The win was announced at the Fields in Trust Charity’s awards ceremony last night at Lord’s Cricket Ground in London.

Antrim Castle Gardens received the highest public vote in the Northern Ireland section of the award alongside shortlisted parks in England, Wales Ireland and Scotland.

Rouken Glen Park in East Renfrewshire won the UK vote overall to take the 2016 title. A total of 214 parks across the UK were nominated by park users with over 10,000 votes cast in the search to find the nation’s favourite.

The Fields in Trust Awards, now in their fifth year, are a celebration of the achievements of individuals and organisations who have worked over the last year to ensure that everyone has access to protected outdoor recreational space.

Nominator of the park, Stephen Nicholl said: “This was the place my Grandparents brought me to play as a child, they lived just across the road. Even then it was a special place, the ruins of the castle were ghostly, the ancient motte a challenge to climb, the site of the annual agricultural show where my grandfather was renowned for his bantams and a place where hockey was the king of sports. The history of Antrim and its people is as much the history of this place, its battles and personalities. It’s not just that it sits at the heart of Antrim, it is the heart of Antrim.

And when the gardens grew tired Council, Heritage Lottery and many others stepped in to revitalise them, to breathe new life into them and bring a new generation to enjoy and value its place in our community. Staff and volunteers go far beyond mere duty to maintain and care for the Castle Gardens. I have watched opera in the ruins of the old castle, old rockers jamming in the studio, summer concerts in the formal gardens, children learning to ride their bikes, dogs chasing balls, families having picnics and brides coming straight from their wedding ceremonies to get the photos they want for their albums. The gardens mean all of this to me and more. In a mad world the gardens are my sanctuary, they are the place to restore my soul.”

Antrim Castle Gardens was one of four parks from across the UK shortlisted for the Award. Pontypool Park in Torfaen, Preston Park Rockery in Brighton and Rouken Glen in East Renfrewshire had also been in the running and were named the best park in Wales, England and Scotland respectively at the Awards Ceremony.

The competition asked members of the public to nominate their favourite parks, with any local green space across the UK eligible, followed by a three week public vote between all those parks nominated. A total of 214 nominations were received across the UK with over 10,000 votes cast.

Helen Griffiths, Fields in Trust Chief Executive, said: “Many congratulations to Antrim Castle Gardens on being named the Northern Ireland winner of our UK’s Best Park, as voted by YOU! 2016 award. It’s a beautiful green space and well deserving of the accolade. The number of parks nominated this year and the votes cast across the competition show just how much the public cherish their local green spaces.

“The Fields in Trust Awards help recognise the role that parks play in our communities, bringing people together and creating a safe outdoor environment that everyone should have access to no matter where they live. We believe that as a nation it is time to revalue these green spaces and consider the positive impact they have on our physical, mental and social health and well being and the savings to the public purse they represent in terms of preventative medicine.

“The UK’s Best Park Award is unique in that it is open to any green space regardless of whether or not it is protected in perpetuity with Fields in Trust .All the members of the public who voted have sent a clear message that they love their local park.”

Fields in Trust is a national charity whose mission is to ensure that everyone – young or old, able-bodied or disabled and wherever they live – should have access to free, local outdoor space for sport, play and recreation.