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Two different Parish Walks

In the June edition of Barrow Voice we described two rather different Parish Walks that were due to happen. They both did happen, were very well attended and met with a lot of enthusiasm.

The British Gypsum Barrow works

The first was a guided tour of the wildlife areas of the Barrow British Gypsum works. Apparently this has never been done before – nobody has ever asked. However, I’m sure it will become a regular visit. Wayne, our guide is the SHEaR Manager at the BG works (standing for Safety, Health, Environment and Risk) and he was just as enthusiastic to be showing us “his” Environmental projects.

After a very rigorous health and safety session with him (well, what would you expect?) we set off to visit the lake. Did you know that Barrow BG has a big lake? No? Nor did the rest of us. It is teaming with water fowl, other birds, insects and fish. It started life as a humble balancing-pond designed to hold water pumped out of the mine. With good management it has become a rich habitat.

We walked to the new bog garden and quickly passing our first bee-orchids! What a rarity and only a mile out of Barrow. As a new bog garden there wasn’t much to see but given a couple of years it will be full of purple loosestrife, meadow sweet, reeds, rushes, irises and a different wealth of insects. Near the bog garden is a time capsule created to commemorate 350 years of the French multinational company that owns British Gypsum, Saint Gobain. Finally we saw a bug hotel with lots of hollow sticks of different thicknesses to attract a wide variety of insects.

We wended our way through an expanse of rich meadow land. In mid June it was filled with more bee-orchids, knapweed, bedstraw, mallow, cranesbill, yellow rattle, scabious and dozens of other common meadow flowers. Common they may be but England doesn’t have much meadowland left so they are now a rarity. It was this meadow habitat that first gave me the idea of the tour: if you drive down the private road into the BG works you are surrounded by wide banks of meadow flowers including a number of different orchids. Clearly someone was doing some effective habitat management.

We were shown the sand cliff that has been built to harbor sand martins. No martins have yet been seen but we were assured that it wouldn’t be long before the cliff became colonized by these early spring migrants. The rest of our tour was to the familiar orange and yellow works themselves. Briefly, a) the dome, which holds a dome of fist size pieces of gypsum waiting to be pulverized into powder ie plaster; b) the middle squat building in which bags are filled with plaster automatically on conveyors (at an amazing speed) by blowers and finally c) the very tall building that reminds me of the Oompa- Loompas in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: the 25kg bags of plaster are conveyed and stacked by giant automated fork-lift machines at dizzying heights before being loaded into waiting lorries. Incidentally, we noted very little dust. Dust had been a major concern of Barrow residents when the plant was being considered. We left the works at 10.30pm after an evening of sheer amazement! Thanks so much to Wayne for making this possible.

Stanford Hall and the Defense and National Rehabilitation Centre (DNRC)

25 people met at Stanford Hall the week after our British Gypsum tour to hear a talk by Mark Gree , Director of the project. Unlike the earlier tour, we couldn’t go on site because it is a massive building site with a constant flow of heavy lorries, bulldozers, cement mixers and a workforce of 700 men and women.

What we have on our door step is the biggest philanthropic project ever. It will be a purpose built facility to replace the old Headley Court in providing all possible rehabilitation services for armed service personnel and NHS patients. It started in August 2015 and is scheduled to receive the first patients in October 2018. It was triggered by the purchase of the Stanford Hall site by the Duke of Westminster who also put £60million of his money into the project. So far over £200million has been donated, both from big charities (e.g. Help for Heroes) and private individuals. It covers 43,000 square metres and will provide 200 beds for patients with complex trauma, 40 long term ( 3 to 6 years) beds in a neurological ward for those who have been close to explosions, short term beds for those with less severe injuries who need on average a 2 – 4 week stay, outpatient facilities and a “back-to life” capability which will ensure that people leaving the centre are fully prepared for life outside.

Much of the development is new-build but considerable effort is being spent on restoring the old. We all wanted to know about the fate of the theatre, a Grade 2 listed building that was full of dry and wet rot especially in the roof, asbestos, archaic wiring and damp-damaged decorations. It is being fully restored including the Edwardian decorated panels and the Wurlitzer organ. It will become a full-sized theatre with modern fittings and facilities and new seating .It will be used for shows and films. We don’t yet know whether it will be accessible to the public.

The Hall was also in a bad state and currently has no roof. The interior is protected by a giant tent and it is this that I can see from my kitchen window and always brilliantly lit at night. Why?? Well, yes, to make sure that intruders are safe and can see what they are doing but mainly…wait for it…to deter bats from roosting and nesting! After all, that is what bats have been doing over the years so why should they stop now? When the roof is completed, the lighting will be very much less and will consist of LEDs that shine downwards. The Hall will be used as an administration building and teaching facility.

The lido has been scrapped (there will be a modern swimming pool) but the diving boards have been saved and recreated within the planted courtyard of a new building. The walled garden has mostly been retained and will be planted up as one of the therapy facilities. The sea-lion pool has also been retained as a planted area within the accommodation blocks. And finally, the two gardeners’ cottages have been retained.

The point that comes across is that rehabilitation involves much more than re-establishing physical health. Providing a rich environment that can sooth the soul, as well as stimulate, is just as important if not more so.

Once the talk was over, we walked along two sides of the site down to Kings Brook, along it to the east and then up onto Hoton Hills, along the ridge in a westerly direction with a very good view of the development, back down to Kings Brook, past the large lake and a wood and finally back to the cars parked at the entrance to Stanford Hall. On the walk, we met several groups of work men who were attending to the surrounding environment. One group was strengthening the banks of the stream and lake (fishing will probably be available to patients) while another group were repointing and repairing the estate brick wall – miles of it. They were pleased to have a break and natter to us. They mentioned the location of a golf course within the grounds.

If you would like to find out more about the DNRC project you can visit a number of websites including https://www.thednrc.org.uk/seeing-is-believing/believing.aspx This one even gives you the opportunity to make a donation - this is a £250 million project and they aren’t quite there yet! Whether or not the public will have the opportunity to visit the project when it is finished I don’t know and nor did Mark Green. Clearly, there are important security issues. But we will probably meet wounded personnel because light employment and volunteering are likely to be important aspects of their rehabilitation.

Thank you to Mark Green for giving us some insight into an amazing project that is likely to be one of the best clinical rehabilitation centres for the armed forces and the nation in the world….and it is on our doorstep.

Judith Rodgers