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Silverburn Park: How a Fife project to help people return to nature is attracting national attention

Silverburn Park
Brian Robertson with communications officer Andie Habeshaw in the walled garden.

Work to transform a once-neglected Fife park is coming to national attention.

The Silverburn Park project in Leven will feature on BBC Scotland’s farming and countryside show Landward, with presenter JJ Chalmers due to film there next week.

The Invictus Games medallist and former Strictly Come Dancing competitor will interview staff and volunteers about their ambitions for the 27-acre parkland.

Silverburn Park
Andie Habeshaw and Brian Robertson of Silverburn Park.

In addition, the Beechgrove Garden will film in the park on nine separate occasions from later this month, featuring community allotment holder Calum Clunie.

There is no doubt Silverburn Park, with views over the Firth of Forth and access to the coastal path, is picturesque.

But how did a relatively small corner of Fife come to merit such attention?

‘Heart, mind and soul’

Well, the answer could lie in the project’s ethos of capturing the hearts, minds and souls of those who visit.

Silverburn is in their hearts.”

Feat chairman Brian Robertson.

And it has also been set up to help the mental health of volunteers, including military veterans, through a project called Grow Your Mind.

Their work. combined with a longer term desire to convert a derelict flax mill into a visitors’ centre and backpackers’ hostel, will in turn benefit the entire community through the creation of jobs and income.

Silverburn Park
The flax mill will be transformed.

A cafe and free bike rental were added to the already popular attractions, including the walled garden and paths network.

The move is paying dividends, with visitor numbers up five-fold since lockdown began a year ago.

The campsite, which opened in September, had a 60% occupancy rate right through the winter.

Mental health benefits

Silverburn Park is managed by mental health charity Fife Employment Access Trust (Feat), which aims to help people with mental health problems back into work.

They took the park over from Fife Council in 2007, when a lack of local authority funds meant the area became a shadow of its former self.

A lot of work was needed to bring it up to scratch.

Overgrown bushes were cut back.

Feat chairman Brian Robertson said volunteers had spent years improving the greenspace and getting rid of invasive species.

“Our business plan had the strapline heart, mind and soul,” he said.

“For a lot of parents who bring their children, Silverburn is in their hearts because they played there when they were young.

“The mind bit is about the benefits of working outdoors and enjoying nature – it’s good for people’s mental health.

“The soul bit is about bringing the park back to life and making it a place the community can be proud of.”

The volunteers

Volunteer Chloe Francis was referred to Silverburn Park by Fife Voluntary Action.

The 24-year-old from Glenrothes began as a volunteer.

But the work led to a paid job cleaning the new glamping pods and toilet and shower blocks.

She also volunteers in the garden when she has time.

Chloe Francis.

She said volunteering had helped her and securing a job was the icing on the cake.

“Getting a job at Silverburn was something I really wanted to have because volunteering there helped my mental health,” she said.

“I had a routine and I was outside so I really enjoyed it.”

The next stage

There are plans for walking tours and a music festival, as well as a harvest flax festival.

In addition, Feat is pitching for funds through a Dragons’ Den-type competition.

If successful, they will buy even more glamping pods.

The ultimate aim, however, is to get the visitors’ centre open, which they say will be like “a phoenix rising from the ashes”.

Designs for the B-listed building are already complete and the project should be up and running by 2025.

How the visitor centre will look.

It will include a restaurant, craft studios, a backpackers’ hostel and exhibition space.

Local people are involved in the fundraising and have raised more than £30,000 so far.

However, a further £2.5 million is needed by August to unlock £7.5m of grants.

The cafe is popular.

“If all goes well, we’ll start the next phase of the project in March 2022,” said Brian.

“Construction work will start in early 2023 and we will be finished by Easter 2025.

“It will bring economic, social and cultural benefits to the wider community.”

A study found the project will provide local firms with the chance to bid for construction work and supply the backpackers’ hostel and cafe.

It will generate 135 jobs during the construction period and create 26 long-term jobs in Levenmouth every year.

“As the park also contributes to people’s wider wellbeing and resilience, it’s all very good news indeed,” said Brian.

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