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Community Group Friends of the Forest Have Been Protecting Notts' Green Spaces for Over Twenty Years

11 June 19 words: Georgianna Scurfield
illustrations: June Perry

For the last twenty years, Friends of the Forest – a community group founded and led by June Perry – has been opposing the Forest Recreation Ground from being built on, defending our right to use the area to enjoy a picnic on a Saturday afternoon, or a kickaround on a Wednesday evening. In other words, for public recreation...

Originally from down south, June Perry moved to Nottingham for work around forty years ago – these days, she lives in a house near The Forest. We start our chat looking out onto her beautiful, and very well-cared-for garden.

In 1998, when Nottingham City Council floated the idea of putting a leisure centre on Forest Recreation Ground, June was one of around fifteen people who attended an initial meeting to discuss the proposal with a representative from the Council.

“That poor councillor who was responsible for holding the meeting...” remembers June. “It wasn’t his idea, but he was left holding the baby. The poor chap got really pummelled that evening. I think he got the idea it wasn’t really popular.”

The threat to public space sparked something in regular users. People liked the facility as it was, and they began to look for ways to stave off the threat.

A member of the group found that The Forest and other parts of Nottingham are covered by an Act of Parliament which essentially means the land is protected from being built on with things like the proposed sports centre. “Developments have to be for park users,” June clarifies, “not just for the general public who want to do something different. That was quite a strong item in the defence.

“We were fighting off something and that went on for some years before it gradually died away,” says June. “I think they eventually realised it wasn’t a good idea after all.”

Back in the 1800s, Nottingham was dangerously overcrowded. In an attempt to address this, common farmland around the town was sold off by the Lord Mayor to private investors in order to expand the town. Understandably, folk in Nottingham weren’t too happy about land being taken from the poor and handed out willy-nilly to the rich – to appease the masses, the powers that be gifted us 130 acres of allotted recreation ground through the 1845 Inclosure Act. And so, The Forest Rec, The Arb, Robin Hood Chase, Victoria Park and many other beloved green areas in the city, were born.

Armed with The Inclosure Act, and with June at the helm, Friends of the Forest has worked tirelessly over the years to keep Forest Rec clean, fenced, and free for our benefit. Holding regular meetings out of June’s home, over the past twenty years they’ve had burnt-out cars cleared, piles of old fridges removed and have ensured the yearly bonfire is cleared up swiftly the day after. Their scope has widened too: “As Friends of the Forest, we started to acknowledge that the other little parks and walks were suffering this sort of abuse taking place, so we’ve started to protect the other areas as well.''

As Friends of the Forest, we started to acknowledge that the other little parks and walks were suffering this sort of abuse taking place, so we’ve started to protect the other areas as well

It hasn’t been purely reactive work either – educating us on the history of Forest Rec and other spots is a huge part of what they do. “We put together a booklet, about 100 pages long, of pictures and accounts of The Forest over time, and what its basic uses and limitations are,” says June. “We gave a copy to each of the councillors and every school and library across the city. People just need to know.

“We also started an Enclosure Walk in the second or third year. Having discovered what these protected places were, we made sure it went through all of them.” The walk, which happens every year, starts down by the river, loops around the city and “finishes up on The Forest at The Enclosure Oak, which was planted there 150 years ago to celebrate all of those places.”

We make a move from June’s house to have a stroll around The Forest itself, and as we approach the far side near the car park, she indicates to the area: “You have to watch it all the time, because it’s so easy to just nibble bits off the edge and people don’t notice.”

June explains that the section we’re walking around started off being temporarily set aside for parking three days before Christmas. The first nibble happened before Friends of the Forest had joined together. “If we’d have been around then, we’d have objected and it would have been stopped,” says June. It’s developed over time to be what it is now: a huge area permanently unuseable for public recreation.

The Forest Sports Zone is also an area of contention for June, in which 63 trees had to be cut down. “I can appreciate that people are really enjoying it, but they could enjoy it somewhere else.” It’s not that she doesn’t want people to use the space for football, she just strongly believes that everyone has been given the right to be able to use the space however they want to – having fenced areas that only footballers can use, isolates others.

This year, June plans to step down from her position as chair and pass the reigns to someone younger, but she’s still fiercely dedicated to preserving the green spaces in our city. As we follow the path along, June smiles at a group of people playing cricket. We pass a guy drinking a shady-looking can on a bench and as we walk, she says: “There are some interesting people sitting on these benches sometimes. There’ll be a man sitting there with a plastic bag by him and he’ll look rather guilty, but in fact he’s just someone who’s only got a little flat somewhere in a block, got nowhere to go and comes and sits here, bringing his beer with him.”

Next time you’re sat on a park bench with your beer in hand, or munching a meal deal on your lunch break somewhere in the city centre, take a moment, listen to the birds tweeting in the trees, soak up all that greenness, and thank your lucky stars that June and others who believed in our green spaces stopped the building of a leisure centre on our Forest Recreation Ground twenty years ago.