A hundred-year old park where international football legends used to train is on the way to being top of the league again thanks to a lottery grant.
The Hirst Park Revival project at Hirst Park in Ashington, where the Charlton brothers and Jackie Milburn played as youngsters, has been awarded a first round ‘Parks for People’ grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and Big Lottery Fund.
The project led by Northumberland County Council is working towards revitalising the park and proposed works include rejuvenating the Flower Park and landscaping, and restoring greenhouses and buildings to provide enhanced spaces and new training facilities for the community.
Play facilities will be enhanced with water play features being reintroduced, and the colourful floral displays that the park is so fondly remembered for will be revived.
Work on the development phase will start in the next few weeks with a view to a full application being submitted in autumn 2016.
If successful, the major improvements and activities will begin in 2017.
England football star Jack Charlton, was spotted playing at Hirst by scouts from Leeds United.
“The football pitches where we played were created on the ash tip from the colliery and these were our first training grounds – our very own Wembley,” he said.
“The park was a precious place where me and Bobby learned our craft, training and playing for fun, before going on to join Leeds and Manchester United and then playing in the world-cup winning England side in 1966.
“Hirst Park made it all possible for us and we would play all day if we could, and we often did.”
The funding will also establish an annual Charlton and Milburn Cup tournament for local youth groups to follow in their footsteps.
Sir Bobby Charlton added: “Hirst Park is as necessary and valuable to the youth of today as it was for me.
“Thanks to the generosity of the Heritage Lottery Fund long may it continue to flourish for the benefit of the community.”
Development funding of £139,300 has been awarded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and Big Lottery Fund, and Northumberland County Council and Ashington Town Council are contributing £12,400.
Coun Ian Swithenbank, cabinet member for local services at Northumberland County Council, said: “This project will protect the park and its heritage for the community for another century and enable generations to play, learn and relax in a wonderful space.”
The coal mining heritage of the park and local area will play a big part in the long term project with events, activities and interpretation resources being developed to explore and tell its story.
Ivor Crowther, Head of HLF North East, said: “Our parks are where we play some of our first games, where we make some of our first discoveries and where some of us take our first steps to stardom. Thanks to money raised by National Lottery players we are delighted to support plans to renew and restore Hirst Park so it can continue to play an important role in Ashington and community life, as it has for over a century.”