Wicksteed Park's great grandson looks to keep the 'dream' alive

One hundred years ago a piece of Northamptonshire meadowland was bought by a local engineer to create a "park for the people".

Initially planned as a model village, Charles Wicksteed's vision eventually evolved into what the owners claim to be the UK's first leisure park with children's play equipment.

The firm says Wicksteed Park brought swings and slides to the masses - and now a century on it is now moving into a new era with a £1m restoration as it forges international links.

The park attracts a million people through its gates every year, while the Wicksteed playground construction business - which still operates in the same town workshop as in 1876 - boasts an annual turnover of £30m.

'Old fashioned play'

Oliver Wicksteed, the great grandson of Charles, said: "We are about to begin a £1m restoration of the lake as part of our plans to restore many of the park's traditional attractions - encouraging people to enjoy the boating lake, paddling pools and some of the things that generations of local families enjoyed before them.

"Hopefully good, old fashioned play will always be a part of growing up."

Stuart Wetherell, sales director at Wicksteed Leisure, said its construction firm wanted to branch out into new markets to maintain relevance.

He said the company had recently signed a £300,000 contract with children's charity Unicef to send play equipment to Libya and was also investing in China.

'Creative innovator'

Mr Wetherall said the park had a major impact when play equipment started to appear in local parks.

"It was probably the same as the computer games explosion of the '90s - that's the equivalent of what these children were being exposed to," said Mr Wetherell.

Image caption These days Wicksteed Park contains small theme park rides including rollercoasters

"We would have all gone down a Wicksteed slide at some point and, if you take into account it was first manufactured in 1918, there's hundreds and thousands of these particular slides in the UK.

"He [Charles] was clearly quite a creative innovator and entrepreneur."

Charles Wicksteed died from pneumonia in 1931 - a week before the park's light railway was opened.

His great grandson Oliver said his passion was always "play" and he wanted Wicksteed Park to be the legacy he left behind, setting up a charity to operate it and carrying out local community work.

"He wanted to give something back and he decided to build a park for the people - for his staff and for kids who were playing in the streets to have somewhere to come which was healthy, away from the pollution," said Oliver, who now helps run the park.

"Keeping Charles' dream alive is our constant ambition."

The story of Wicksteed Park will be broadcast on Inside Out in the East on BBC One at 19:30 GMT and will be available afterwards on the iPlayer.

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