Last year, Victoria Park in Ashford was run-down, scrawled with graffiti and seen by many as a place to avoid.
But following a staggering £5 million revamp – including a huge new play area – we sent reporter Chantal Weller to see if it lives up to its new-found hype…
A couple of years ago, the Tripadvisor reviews for Victoria Park in Ashford were pretty damning.
One described it as “tired and broken”, with missing play equipment, full of litter and bottles and having “the odour of skunk”.
Another wrote in September 2021: “Won’t be visiting again! Such a shame as it could be lovely with some TLC.”
How things have changed.
Today, reviewers describe the park as a “dream”. And after a leisurely stroll around, I can certainly see what they mean.
The park, just a 10-minute walk from the town centre or railway station, was very peaceful – the sort of place you could just sit and think.
As I walked down the main path with trees lining it – much like Hyde Park in London – I spotted an array of people using the area to relax.
Some were reading, others were gathered on a picnic blanket having a chat, while some families made use of the newly-fitted play area.
What used to be a neglected area now has high-quality equipment, including a climbing frame, swing, trampolines, a zipwire and a wheelchair-friendly swing.
I also walked through the seasonal wetland area which is home to a variety of plants which were well and truly blooming in the sun.
As temperatures soared to 30C, an ice-cold beverage was in order, so I went to get a drink from the new cafe which opened this summer.
The friendly staff told me the cafe had been well-received so far before handing me the delicious iced latte. I was also faced with many delectable-looking treats including a Biscoff brownie, a salted caramel brownie, date and oat slices and more.
Also on the menu are paninis at a respectable £4.45 each. Options include cheese and ham, cheese and tomato, brie, bacon and cranberry and a tuna melt.
The site has indoor and outdoor seating and there are also benches scattered around the park if you’d prefer to perch somewhere else.
I opted to find a bench outdoors in the shade to take in the peaceful surroundings on this warm afternoon.
Overall, it was a lovely walk around a stunning park which has been given a new lease of life following huge investment.
The revamp was part of The Victoria Park and Watercress Fields Project and delivered by Ashford Borough Council (ABC) and the National Lottery Heritage Fund.
Council bosses secured the cash for the regeneration in 2019. Some £3m was given by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, and the other £1.4m was gained through contributions from the council, the Friends of Victoria Park and section 106 payments paid for by developers.
During the consultation, which 1,000 people responded to, security was an important factor to residents and this has been noted as cameras and new lighting have been installed.
The most recent five-star review on Tripadvisor says: “Finally ABC has done something useful and beneficial with our money!”