Mark Speaks Up For Hyde Park Friends

Mark featured in the following article in the Evening Standard regarding the closure of the lodge at Hyde Park Corner to local voluntary group, The Friends of Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens.

A GROUP of volunteers dedicated to helping visitors to Hyde Park is being evicted from its headquarters by park chiefs who want to rent out the building.

The Friends of Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens use the 19th-century lodge as a base to provide information and advice to hundreds of tourists and visitors every day.

But the Royal Parks Agency has ordered the group to leave so it can rent out the listed building to raise more income.

The lodge, situated just inside the gate at Hyde Park Corner, has been used as the group’s headquarters for 10 years. A team of 20 volunteers man the building most days, and members also keep a careful eye on the upkeep of the park and promote its facilities to the local community.

But their residency ends this month when the building is closed for refurbishment and leased, leaving the group, which has 700 members, to find a new home.

The chairwomen of the Friends, Lady Cleaver – the wife of Sir Anthony, former head of the UK Nuclear Decommissioning Authority and the Royal College of Music – and Jacqueline Hyer are spearheading the campaign to keep the lodge open. Lady Cleaver said: “The Royal Parks Agency is investing in a policy of renting out its buildings to raise money. They will be evicting the Friends at the end of this month.

“This is not just wrong but foolish. The building is not suitable for modern living but does work as our headquarters. There is a significant demand for what we do. If we go, London will not have suitable facilities for hundreds of tourists a day.”

The lodge, which dates from 1828, was originally occupied by staff who worked in the Parks or the royal household.

Mark Field, Conservative MP for Cities of London and Westminster, has petitioned Royal Parks chief executive Mark Camley to allow the Friends to remain.

He said: “While I appreciate the significant budgetary constraints on the RPA, I do believe it is a great shame that voluntary groups such as the Friends face the loss of such a valuable resource.

“Surely there cannot be a better use of the lodge for the benefit of all who enjoy our valuable central London parks. The Friends have played a crucial role for more than 30 years and this move seems scant reward for their contribution.”

A spokeswoman for the Royal Parks, which is an executive agency of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, said it wanted to make “better use of our buildings” by ensuring “value for money to the taxpayer”.

She said: “Hyde Park Corner Lodge, which is currently used by the Friends of Hyde Park, has been identified as suitable for refurbishment and we have discussed this with the Friends.

“We are very grateful to the Friends of Hyde Park for their valuable support and hope to continue to work together on a range of other volunteer projects. We have offered the Friends alternative meeting space, in other buildings, elsewhere in the park.”