History and heritage volunteers sought for park

Volunteers are being sought for the first time to help bring alive the history and heritage of one of the city’s best-loved parks – in its 135th year.

The Volunteer Guides for Duthie Park will take people on guided tours around the 44-acre green area which is situated beside the River Dee within easy walking, cycling and a bus journey reach of the city centre.

They will provide information about the park to visitors, and be available to assist with questions or queries. The Guides will be given training including the history and heritage of the park, and the training will cover such topics as how to prepare for a tour, group dynamics, dealing with questions and getting to know the Park.

Aberdeen City Council Communities, Housing and Infrastructure vice convener Councillor Jean Morrison said: “We know there are a lot of people who are interested in the history of the park and are very keen on the green space and all of its facilities – we would love to encourage this enthusiasm.

“This is the first time we will be training members of the public to come along and be Volunteer Guides. Our own Park Rangers have held tours in the past but there was an interest from members of the public wanting to get involved.

“Duthie Park is a year-round destination with the water features, playparks, Japanese Garden and of course the David Welsh Winter Gardens so there is plenty of history, heritage and features for the Volunteer Guides to get to know.

“Similar tours work very well in other parks around the country so we would encourage people to come along to the training session to find out more – this is a very exciting project and I’m sure there’ll be a lot of interest.”

Friends of Duthie Park chairman Alan Amoore said: “The team at the park do such a wonderful and worthwhile job and I'm sure that anyone who wants to become involved will find it extremely rewarding."

Aberdeen City Council is looking for 15 Volunteer Guides who would be leading the tours at times and dates suitable to their diaries. Creating the Volunteer Guides was also part of the Heritage Lottery grant funding which was awarded in 2008.

The free weekend-long training session for potential guides will take place on Saturday 18 March and Sunday 19 March 2017 and will be led by a Pam Wells, a Scottish Blue Badge Tourist Guide. Participants in the training course are asked to learn about some of the history of Duthie Park before the weekend.

Duthie Park was built on land given to the council in 1881 by Lady Elizabeth Duthie of Ruthrieston in memory of her uncle and of her brother, and she purchased the land for £30,000 from the estate of Arthurseat. It was officially opened by Princess Beatrice on 27 September, 1883.

The park is noted for the spectacular David Welch Winter Gardens with tropical and arid houses which contain the second largest collections of bromeliads and of giant cacti respectively in Great Britain - beaten only by the Eden Project in Cornwall.

Originally opened in 1899, the greenhouses had to be demolished and rebuilt after suffering storm damage in 1969. Today they are a tranquil place surrounded by such plants as tree ferns, Spanish moss, anthuria, and banana trees.

Within the gardens are railings salvaged from the south side of the major bridge in the middle Union Street which feature unusual metal cats, derived from the city’s coat of arms, and were saved when the south side of the bridge was developed for retail units in the mid-20th century.

Another historical fact about the park is that the obelisk was original in the courtyard at Marischal College and was moved to Duthie Park in 1906 when Marischal College was developed. There was also that the model boating boat was altered in 1927 from an hour glass shape to rectangular to accommodate model sailing boats.

The 135-year-old park had a £5 million refurbishment and re-opened in 2013, with funding provided by the Heritage Lottery Fund and Aberdeen City Council. The original 1883 plans were consulted in order to restore some of the long-lost features such as the linked lakes, the mound, and the riverside, and the concept for the works was for the park and its living heritage will be conserved for future generations.

Last month (December), it was announced the park’s café was to re-open in the spring after an extensive refurbishment and extension of the existing building.

Anyone interested in becoming a Duthie Park Volunteer Guide and attending the training should contact Arthur Gill on 01224 580165 or ArGill@aberdeencity.gov.uk.