Photo: Mindy Goose

Friendly call for action over Kirkstall Abbey grounds

29 January 2019

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Local and not-so-local residents, community groups and councillors came together for an encouraging and warm, if a little drafty, meeting to discuss Kirkstall Abbey grounds, writes Jim Corah.

Lead by Councillor Fiona Venner (Lab, Kirkstall), the 20 or so attendees discussed a variety of ideas on what could happen in the grounds.

These ranged from proper blue sky thinking to more regular concerns, and like all public meetings, strayed over the boundaries of Kirkstall Abbey’s grounds.

The basis of the meeting had been to discuss how the Council and volunteers could come together to collaborate on looking after the grounds. Phil Stanniforth, LCC Parks and Countryside, outlined a suggestion for a ‘Friends of Kirkstall Abbey Grounds’ group that could meet to direct Council work.

abbey house garden-1

Planning the future: Abbey House Gardens. Photo: Mindy Goose

Working in groups attendees then came up with ideas. I don’t have the space or notes to go through every suggestion here though I’d like to discuss the most useful/impactful.

It was agreed that the Medicinal Garden, at the top of of the grounds behind the Abbey House Museum, needed care and attention.

The best suggestion for this area was to plant plants the monks would have grown when the Abbey was in full use, with information on the plants’ use. I am proud to say that my friends in Kirkstall in Bloom had managed to research and list these plants during the meeting (you guys rock).

For the main grounds, around the Abbey, more benches and bins were called for.

While facilities like an ope-=air gym and another cafe were pondered, a clear outstanding suggestion was to reinstate the bandstand into the Grounds.

Aside from being a possible wedding ceremony venue (I think I’d marry my wife again there if it was a possibility), this would allow brass bands from the region to play during the summer.

The Bands in the Park programme is a fantastic series of concerts and it would be amazing to have them at Kirkstall Abbey.

Other suggestions included: a dog walk area; coppicing the bowling green area; bringing back the geographical map of the UK to the bowling green area; and for the wall and rail along the top of the grounds bordering Morris Lane to repaired and made good.

Improving access to the grounds was high among attendees’ suggestions. One suggestion included a winding path across the Morris Lane embankment. Another was to improve signage, though this also included areas cared for by LCC Museums and Galleries.

The next steps are important. While there were many good suggestions there needs to be volunteers to see them through. My experience with Kirkstall in Bloom and Kirkstall Festival is that it has been harder to recruit volunteers to help in recent years.

A currently active community group cannot take on the kind of work needed for Kirkstall Abbey grounds, which deserve their own ‘Friends of’ group, one that will meet to discuss the plans for the Grounds in committee and will, when required, action the work days.

As Phil Stanniforth suggested, such a group may only need to meet twice a year to plan the Council’s work in the Grounds.

If you are interested in such a group, please e-mail Fiona.venner@leeds.gov.uk. Details of the next meeting will be published in due course.
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Thank you for reading this article. Aside from volunteering with Kirkstall in Bloom and Kirkstall Festival, I am a board member of West Leeds Community Media, the publisher of West Leeds Dispatch.

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