There was a fantastic response by local people to last night's Friends of Lydiard Park meeting.
Some reports say 600 people others that more than 700 attended the public meeting at Lydiard Park Academy. It was difficult to tell.
The start of the meeting was delayed as reports came through that cars were queued up outside the school as far as the roundabout at the top of Hay Lane and parking was becoming a problem. All seats were quickly filled as more chairs were brought out. People sat on benches and stood three and four deep around the edges of the sports hall.
Speakers included Mike Bowden, Chair of the Friends of Lydiard Park; Friends trustee Sarah Finch Crisp, who worked as Keeper at Lydiard Park for 24 years and headed the Lydiard Park Project, an ambitious landscape restoration project funded by a £3.1 million Heritage Lottery Fund grant; Cllr Garry Perkins (Con Haydon Wick) Cabinet Member for Economy, Regeneration and Skills and Matthew Courtliff, prospective Labour candidate for Lydiard and Freshbrook.
The meeting got off to an emotional start as Mike Bowden was clearly overwhelmed by the level of support given by local people.
For those who couldn't make the meeting or who were unable to see the short opening film clip watch it here on the Swindon Viewpoint website.
Cllr Perkins repeatedly reminded the audience that Lydiard Park is not up for sale and never will be. (I would argue that to give a private/commercial company a 25/50 year lease is as good as selling it and that profit sharing contracts are a much better option). We've all got that message Cllr Perkins. He also repeated the constraints upon the public purse and the cost to the Borough of providing services for the elderly, children and vulnerable people - yes, we all appreciate that as well.
What Cllr Perkins didn't seem to take on board was that we want to help. Instead of looking to external private companies who will cream off any profit, let a locally formed community trust take on the job and plough the profits back into the estate - there are numerous local people with vast experience willing to volunteer.
The meeting concluded with an address given by Lord Joel Joffe CBE,
human rights lawyer who represented Nelson Mandela and today is Chair of the
Joffe Charitable Trust. Lord Joffe encouraged communication and
Robert Buckland, MP for Swindon South, has also added his support to a commonsense solution. Speaking from London during last night's BBC Points West programme he described Lydiard Park as a much loved asset of national historical importance and he wants to see people coming together in a common purpose. Coverage from last night's meeting can be viewed on the BBC iplayer.
Keep checking the Friends of Lydiard Park and Swindon Heritage websites and follow us on social media for updates.
Learn more about the fascinating history of the St John family and Lydiard House in Behind Closed Doors a series of free talks and tours taking place at Lydiard House from January 23 to March 16. Places are limited so please phone Charlotte Thwaites on 01793 465277 or email CThwaites@swindon.gov.uk to book a place.
So why is Lydiard House and Park so historically important? Read the entry on Historic England website and look back through some of the blogposts on this website.