VRP is bringing together a network of twelve urban and country parks and nature reserves — also known as ‘Discovery Gateways’ — as part of a project to establish a permanent regional park for the South Wales Valleys.
Regional parks can be found both in the UK and internationally, providing recreational and wellbeing opportunities for residents and visitors — with or without formal designation — whilst encouraging community involvement in caring for the landscape.
From countryside management to tourism, staff in a variety of roles recently met as part of the new network to discuss current developments at their sites, facilitate knowledge sharing and plan future networking opportunities.
High on the agenda was a need for collaborative marketing approaches for both resident and visitor audiences to increase footfall at each Discovery Gateway. Developing quality funding bids was also a priority, with research being shared by VRP to strengthen the network’s evidence base. Making best use of expert staff across the region was also a key theme — for example, in tree disease identification to allow for early intervention.
Benefiting from £7 million awarded by Welsh Government in 2019 via VRP, the network has already implemented a variety of improvements. And for many of the parks, the investment has been transformational — allowing them to welcome more educational visits, offer additional facilities to disabled visitors, improve tracks and trails to increase accessibility and much more.
Following the recent kick-off meeting, and lead by hosts Aneurin Leisure, the network enjoyed a tour of Parc Bryn Bach — a popular country park which includes a designated 112-hectare Local Nature Reserve. Funding, including support from VRP, has allowed the refurbishment of the on-site café, the building of a bunkhouse in the visitor centre, and the creation of a sensory garden and a remote working hub on the lakeside — designed to give laptop users a dose of nature while they work.
Each Discovery Gateway is owned and operated by local authorities and trusts across the Valleys region. Current membership of the Discovery Gateway Network includes: Caerphilly CBC, Bridgend CBC, Torfaen CBC, Blaenau Gwent CBC, Rhondda Cynon Taf CBC, Merthyr CBC, Neath Port Talbot CBC, Carmarthenshire CC, Aneurin Leisure Trust, Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales, Awen Cultural Trust, and Wellbeing Merthyr (Trust).
Discovery Gateways currently represented within the network include: Caerphilly Castle (and surrounds), Cwmcarn Forest, Parc Penallta, Parc Slip, Bryngarw Country Park, Blaenavon World Heritage Centre, Parc Bryn Bach, Dare Valley Country Park, Ynysangharad War Memorial Park, Cyfarthfa Park, Afan Forest Park, and Llyn Llech Owain Country Park.
Valleys Regional Park is supported by the European Social Fund through the Welsh Government. The European Social Fund is supporting the development of a sustainable model for Valleys Regional Park via Priority 5 funding for public services reform and regional working. Quarterly meetings will be arranged with the network to facilitate this — with the next to be held in early spring.
Find out more about the individual Discovery Gateways here.