Saltwell Park holds a very special place in my heart as it does with many other people that live in the North East, have lived here or have visited the area. The park is one of those special places that stays with you, and touches the lives of many generations. In this blog post I explore my first experience of the park, and I am going to share with you the images that I took at last years Enchanted Parks event, along with my top tips for getting the most out of this fantastic and affordable event!!
I first fell in love with the ‘Peoples Park’ in 2005, this was two years after the birth of my first child. A time that was challenging and quite isolating. Living on a strict budget, as most young families do, Saltwell Park became a sanctuary for my family and me, the park was a place to meet new people and engage with the local community.
In 2001 I had graduated from my photography degree at Northumbria University and I had always wanted to use my qualifications to earn a living. But I needed an opportunity to show what I could do. It struck me that Saltwell Park and the local residents that were connected with it would be a great platform for a new artistic residency. ‘Nature’s Blueprint’ began my career as a freelance artist and you can read more about it in my blog post Park Life on my creative blog here.
Most recently I attended the Enchanted Parks event in 2015. I was given very special access to the event by the wonderful Gateshead culture team to take a series of photographs.
This has been a personal ambition of mine to be able to take the time to photograph this event. Attending the event with family and friends is great fun, but there is always one person in the group that is delayed by wanting to get that killer shot of the most amazing installation!! Yes that person is invariably me.
I did attend the event with my family and friends and we had a fun and chilly time. On my second visit the longest I spent with one installation was 20 minutes, which doesn’t sound like very long, but when you have left your hat and gloves at home and the North East wind is blowing I can tell you it feels like a lifetime!!
This yeasr theme was Alice in Wonderland and I think the artists did a fantastic job. Also the stewards and the perfoming artists deserve a medal for all of their hard work during the event as the cold is pretty challenging, but they are fully committed to the event and make it really special for everyone.
The images in this blog post are from that event, and I have tried to do it justice, but really you need to experience it up close and personal. So if you haven’t been before I would highly recommend it and if you would like to attend Enchanted Parks 2016 then you will need to book as soon as the tickets go online, they sell out very quickly.
The Enchanted Parks website can be found here. And there is a great Facebook page and blog called Gateshead Local that will announce when the tickets are available. You can find the Gateshead Local blog here, and Facebook page here.
As I have been to Enchanted Parks quite a few times I thought it might be useful to give people a survival guide to make the experience really enjoyable for everyone.
1. Its a no brainer dress up warm!! Get your layers on, thermals, hat, gloves, scarves, and wellies just in case it rains or snows. This event usually takes about an hour to see everything and if you want to take your time you will all need to be nice an toasty so that you can enjoy the event fully. Obviously if you have kids in a pushchair they may need extra layers or a blanket to keep them very warm!!
2. Don’t for get to charge your phone or camera battery, there is so much to photograph and film and the last thing you need is your battery running out.
3. Take a little bit of extra cash. You might need to warm up and get a bit of refreshment while at the event. It was great to see that at the 2015 event they had more than the usual hot dogs, chips and watery hot chocolate on offer at Saltwell Towers. This year they had the fabulous Scream for Pizza van outside the towers which was brilliant. They also had a mad hatters tea party upstairs in the towers for you to buy some wonderful treats.
4. Don’t miss your allocated time. Get to the event about 15 minutes early so that you can make your time slot. There will be a queue to get in but the organisation is pretty great so you shouldn’t be waiting long. Also if you get there early and you are meeting friends then you will have time to make sure you find each other.
5. Obviously as this is an evening event keeping everyone together can be a challenge!! So I would advise that you dress your kids in something that means you can find them easily if they wander off. There are traders outside of the park that sell toys that light up, so you could take extra cash to purchase those. Or you can get organised before the event and buy some glow sticks pretty cheap and use those. Anything that glows in the dark will do you could get really creative with it and use flashing bicycle lights or high vis/glow in the dark clothing.
6. Take your time to explore the installations. Many of them you can interact with, the post box above had a mushroom on top, when you pressed it there was a voice recording that you could listen to. There were a number of these dotted around the park and many people just walked past them. Of course the kids worked out what they did pretty quickly!!
7. Share your experience. Take your time, enjoy the event and make sure you shout about it on social media. It is fantatsic seeing everybodies pictures, and find out what their favourite part of the event was.
So those are my top tips for surviving the Enchanted Parks experience. If you feel inspired to get involved with the event they are always looking for volunteers. So keep an eye out on their website to find out more information here.
And if you are an artist who really wants to get involved, or has a great idea for an installation for the event then get in touch with the Gateshead Council Culture Team and they will point you in the right direction you can find their contact details here.
Saltwell Park is indeed a very special place. And I hope that it continues to go from strength to strength. For over a decade I have watched the park change through the heritage lottery fund, massive local authority cuts, one of the casualties of which was the heart and soul of the park Doug Clayton, Doug was the park keeper for over 30 years and he is still sorely missed.
I have watched how the amazing culture team have managed to continue to provide inspirational cultural events for local people to enjoy on a shoe string budget. One of which ‘Sculpture Day’ celebrated its 30th year in 2015!
For me it feels as though the park will always remain the ‘People’s Park’ and that the community as a whole will shape its future. There is an amazing group of volunteers that are true champions of the park and they are always open to receiving new members ‘The Friends of Saltwell Park’ is a group that meets regularly to discuss all aspects of the park and they are a great resource for finding out what is going on and how you can get involved. Details of ongoing projects can be found here on their website.
In a world dominated by technology that proclaims to bring people together, but at times seems to drive us apart, spaces like Saltwell Park get us to switch off, open our eyes, take a deep breath, enjoy some quality time, create life long memories, make new friendships, and enjoy the natural world. Open spaces remind us what is really important.
Saltwell Park like so many outdoor public spaces is essential to our wellbeing, and I always say a hearty thank you to Mr William Wailes every time I visit it. Without Mr Wailes we would not be able to enjoy the ‘People’s Park’ that he sold to the local authority in 1876!! Thank you Mr Wailes we are forever in your debt.
Sponsors for Enchanted Parks event.
If you would like to know more about who commissioned this event check out the Newcastle Gateshead Initiative (NGI) here. And to see who sponsored the event check out The Arts Council England here, and Gateshead Council here.
All rights reserved. Images © 2015 Corinne Lewis-Ward