Friends - Past
This charitable association had its origin as an informal conservation group in the mid-1990s when the late Peter Reynolds, our first Chairman and Honorary Life President, invited a number of people with an interest in Dunorlan Park to meet at his home for general discussion of the then condition - showing signs of deterioration because of previous lack of attention and investment - and possible future of the park and gardens.
There followed a number of meetings of the group and consultations with Tunbridge Wells Borough Council officials about restoration initiatives that culminated in an initial application for a grant from the lottery funded Urban Parks Programme. While this application was turned down, encouragement and some funding was given for further research towards a revised application to the successor Heritage Lottery Fund which was first submitted in September 1999.
Partly in order to demonstrate the level of support for these applications, but also to ensure continued local participation in the future of Dunorlan Park, it was decided to widen the scope of the informal group of Friends by inviting the public to join to make a much larger and thus more influential organisation.
The Friends of Dunorlan Park was, accordingly, launched at a Public Meeting in the Town Hall in October 1996; our constitution was approved at The Friends' first AGM on 3rd April 1997 and the Association registered as a Charity (No. 1063715 / 0) on 31st July 1997. Our stated purpose being .. 'To further the restoration, preservation and sympathetic development for enjoyment by the public of the urban park and gardens known as Dunorlan Park, Tunbridge Wells, in the county of Kent.'
The sometimes seemingly unending process of the HLF application came to a joyous conclusion in February 2003 with news of the Fund's approval of a grant of £2.1 million towards the cost of what was eventually a much more extensive restoration project than was originally believed possible - but it cannot have been a hindrance that in 2002 English Heritage had named Dunorlan as a park of historical interest and granted it a Grade 2 listing. The on-site work of the Restoration Project commenced in September 2003 and was largely completed by the end of 2004 - with representatives of The Friends actively involved in the project committees.
Membership of The Friends rose steadily during the drawn out HLF application process and then as the restoration project got under way. During this time The Friends had not been idle - and, then under the Chairmanship of Mrs. Ruth Baker (who as the Mayor of Tunbridge Wells had presided over the original public meeting founding our Association), had committed to and had raised £10,000 towards the water features of the restoration project via an aptly named Millennium Cascade Fund.
Effective completion of the project - and the official re-opening and full access to all areas of the Park in June 2005 - addressed many of the original matters on which The Friends focused their attention - Restoring the Lake and Ponds; A path round the lake; Restoring the fountain and avenue of cedars; Reinstating the historic Victorian garden and so we moved on to our present aims and objectives !