This report provides a brief overview of the excellent WUP Europe Region Congress held in partnership with Wirral Council at Birkenhead Park from 16-21 October, including pre and post congress tours.  

The conference was planned and coordinated by Dr. Mary Worrall and her team of Wirral Council’s Parks and Countryside department. More than 160 people attended with about 40 from World Urban Parks, with 20 of them presenting.

Among WUP leaders present were Europe Region Committee Chair and Deputy Chair Dr. Anna Steidle and Kevin Halpenny, WUP Chair Gil Penalosa, Vice Chair Alliances Portfolio Elisabeth Fournier, Deputy Chair Advocacy Portfolio Mark Camley, Chair World Parks Academy Dr. Christy Boylan, Co-Chair (with Dr Mary Worrall), Older Adults and Parks Committee Tim Geyer,  Co-Chairs Large Urban Parks Committee Dr Richard Murray and Margaret Gormley, Chair Good Practices Working Group Peter Verdyck, and WUP Directors Torgeir Soerensen and Dr Noor Azlin Yahya.

Monday 18 October saw World Urban Parks members come together for an open Europe Region Meeting with a focus on members’ surveys and needs. The workshop was facilitated by Dr. Anna Steidle and Kevin Halpenny, followed by a WUP Large Urban Parks meeting primarily focused on refining the criteria and process for the piloted Large Urban Parks Award, facilitated by Dr. Richard Murray and Margaret Gormley.

The Congress was opened by the Wirral Council Mayor, Anne McLachlan, Leader Phil Davies, and WUP Europe Chair Dr. Anna Steidle. Keynote speakers included Dr. Anna Steidle on the future of public parks, Dr. Richard Murray on urban parks in complex times, Doug Blonsky (CEO Central Park New York) on Central Park’s heritage and development as a sustainable and vibrant park, and Ros Kerslake (CEO Heritage Lottery Fund) on the UK’s heritage and funding.

Other WUP member contributions included Smart Parks, the Amsterdam Bos, forest recreation, Nante as a city in a garden, Rivierenhof Park vision, Ramat Hanadiv Park neighbour partnership, developing new income for parks,  older adults and parks, city arch river project, Phoenix and Royal Parks shared heritage, and the influence of Birkenhead Park on Ireland’s parks and gardens.

There were three workshops run by WUP members:

·        A World Parks Academy workshop on health initiatives in parks led by Kevin Halpenny for the benefit of professional certification holders

·        Community engagement in parks led by Tim Geyer

·        Parks in challenging times led by Matthew Bradbury Chair of the UK Parks Alliance.

The first two days were held at the Floral Pavilion and the third at Birkenhead Park. Days one and two were supported by a trade and community group show, while day three was complemented by an Edward Kemp Symposium – the first superintendent of Birkenhead Park and designer of other UK parks.  These days included local site tours of Birkenhead Park, Flaybrick Cemetery, Port Sunlight, and New Brighton.

A World Urban Parks Congress Declaration in support of the UK seeking Birkenhead Park’s world heritage status was developed and ratified by congress participants on day three. That evening a Gala Dinner capped the Congress with Birkenhead Park receiving a Gold Standard as the pilot park for the WUP Large Urban Parks Award that will open in 2018. World Parks Academy Certificates were given to Dr. Mary Worrall and Hugo Jan Trago (Certified Parks Professional – International), while others received certification renewal certificates.

A diverse range of pre and post congress tours were arranged.  About 25 WUP members spent the weekend of 16-17 October visiting Manchester and the Peak District,  hosted by Dr. Mary Worrall. Saturday included the Manchester United Stadium in Trafford, two green flag parks, Walken Gardens and John Leigh Park with a high level of friends group management, the 120 hectare Dunham Massey heritage park and gardens managed by the UK National Trust, and late afternoon tea hosted by the Mayor of Trafford, Jonathan Coupe, while cruising Britain’s oldest canal in a canal boat.  The Sunday highlight was visiting the grounds of Chatsworth House in the Peak District National Park with its Capability Brown designed landscape and Joseph Paxton designed gardens and water features, but also the market town of Bakewell and spa town of Buxton.

The Friday, 20 October post-Congress tour crossed the Mersey River to heritage parks in Southport and Liverpool.  The 12 hectare Hesketh Park (1868) was designed by Edward Kemp with reference to Birkenhead Park and includes an observatory, conservatory and one of the few remaining floral clocks. The 95 hectare Sefton Park in Liverpool is a Parisian style park laid out by Edouard Andre and includes a large Victorian Palm House restored with Lottery Fund monies. Both visits were hosted by friend groups or volunteers, a characteristic of the park management in the region.

A small group of WUP members continued with a Saturday tour of park highlights in Wirrall.

Overall the congress provided a rich and varied experience of international and local presentations, site tours and supporting events that engaged parks people from the community, political and professional levels.