Moyra Forrest: Historical roots a huge part of park life for local community

Starbank Park is 125 years old and still a community hub
Starbank Park is 125 years old and still a community hub
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By delightful serendipity, a Friends Group was established in my local Starbank Park, just after I retired. Green fingers were not required – most people can weed and clear dead leaves quite adequately.

As housework diversion therapy, a weekly dose of fresh air seemed more than attractive. With the stunning sea views, it seemed better than any bottled tonic on offer.

It turned out that volunteering in a garden can be pretty special. Lots of space to unwind, peace to think freely, and the sheer physical beauty of the flowers and plants.

There even seem to be similarities between volunteers and plants: some may need lots of tending; sometimes you have to pass thorns to find the flowers; others are 
spontaneously joyful. All are welcome.

Three andand half years on, a recent post observed that Friends have now become friends at Starbank Park. Last year the park celebrated its 125th anniversary, and the Friends decided to learn more about its history. Bought for the people by Leith Town Council, it became part of Edinburgh when the councils merged in 1922. Edinburgh City Council still owns the park, but years of dwindling budgets and neglect meant that lots of tender loving care was required to restore some of the former glory. The council has been a willing partner.

The park is much more than a lovely open space. It has a history as a meeting place much loved by the local community. The Friends have worked hard to build on that heritage. There is now a programme of events such as an annual Easter egg hunt for little people, a cherry-
blossom tea party, a Hallowe’en gathering.

Community links are exceedingly important. Local schools and youth groups have been involved in establishing a Children’s Nature Trail with a Hans Christian Andersen theme; Andersen had visited nearby Lixmount House in 1847. There are bird boxes, insect hotels and a mini library.

As far back as 1905 the then Superintendent of the Park spoke about the educative influence of flowers and plants, and there is a record of local schoolchildren visiting the park for nature study in 1909.

There are early accounts of concerts and even of the first public demonstration in Scotland of the triplephone, the latest development of the gramophone, in 1905. There were many local bands, and Leith Town Council had a programme of ‘Music in the Parks’. In 2016 the Edinburgh Brass Band played at the 125th Anniversary Gala to the delight of all.

Our history is important. Many have shared their memories and photos, but we suspect there is more information to come. The history to date is on the Friends of Starbank Park website, culled from printed and online sources, individual and group memories, and, of course, there are opportunities to volunteer.

Moyra Forrest is a retired librarian and occasional book indexer. She lives in Edinburgh.