Volunteers central to future of newly divested Clare Castle Country Park

Curator of the Clare Ancient House Museum Reggy Smith hangs a screen print at the Clare Castle Count

Curator of the Clare Ancient House Museum Reggy Smith hangs a screen print at the Clare Castle Country Park in preparation of a Magna Carta celebration. - Credit: Su Anderson

Around 120 volunteers have signed up to help look after a Suffolk country park, as legal work officially handing it over to the local community nears completion – almost four years after the idea was first suggested.

The ownership and management of Clare Castle Country Park will soon be passed from Suffolk County Council to the town of Clare.

The 35-acre park, visited by around 180,000 people a year, contains the remains of a castle listed as an Ancient Monument, two listed Victorian railway buildings, the ‘New Cut’ branch of the Stour that was constructed in the 15th Century and the Chiltern Stream, along with expanses of grass and woodland.

The town council negotiated long and hard to come up with a deal which will see the county council hand over £315,000 to the community for the park, with £158,000 of that to be spent on the buildings.

A trust set up to manage the park has ambitious ideas for enhancing the site while retaining its character, and has already started on extensive plans to reverse the effects of neglect suffered during recent years.

It has already benefited from a Heritage Lottery start up grant of £10,000 to pay for consultation work, and has applied for further funding to transform the buildings on site and restore them to their former glory.

St Edmundsbury Borough Council will continue to do much of the grounds maintenance, but everything else will be done by volunteers who are central to the plans.

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More than 20 of them showed up in torrential rain on Saturday to carry out clearing and maintenance tasks, which chairman of the trustees Geoffrey Bray said showed how much the park meant to the local community.

He added: “We want to get as many people involved as possible so they feel that the park belongs to them.

“We don’t necessarily need to attract new visitors but rather we want to clear it and open it up so that people who might usually just come here for walk are aware of the castle and railway and all of its history.”

If the application for Heritage Lottery Funding is successful, the money will be used to transform the old goods shed into a venue for exhibitions and conferences, and the station and platform will be restored. The ponds and moats in the park also need re-silting - a job that could cost £200,000.

But Clare town councillor, Keith Haisman, who has been central to the park bid, said despite the cost and the scale of what they have taken on, the trust was well researched and up to the challenge.

He added: “We are not daunted by what we have taken on. As the negotiations have taken so long, we know every possible pitfall and are confident we can do this.”