WHEN the Worcestershire Regiment held the British line against the Germans at the Battle of Gheluvelt in 1914 it was said to have saved the nation from defeat in the First World War.

Back home in Worcester a public park was created to celebrate this feat of military endeavour.

Now, more than a century later, the city is paying tribute to the man who “saved” the park.

St. George’s Day, on Sunday, April 28, will be a bitter-sweet day for Allen Barnatt, who is stepping down as chair of the Friends of Gheluvelt Park after 15 years at the helm. 

Any comparison with the heroes of 1914 is obviously invidious, but there is little doubt that without the efforts of Allen and his team, Gheluvelt Park would not be the shining light it is today.

For Gheluvelt is now Worcester’s flagship park, attracting more than 350,000 individual visits per month each summer. It has been awarded the Green Flag - Keep Britain Tidy’s endorsement for parks that meet high standards of cleanliness and upkeep - for more than ten consecutive years. 

However, it hasn't always been like that.

Allen started to take an interest in the park when he moved to Worcester in 2003 after retiring as a company director and found it not a very pleasant sight or site. 

He said: “As I strolled through the park in Autumn of 2003, I was struck by the high level of graffiti, vandalism, evidence of drug abuse and lack of visitors. Our park had become a little-used eyesore.

"Coincidently, Worcester City Council had come to the same conclusion and was in the process of arranging a local residents meeting to address exactly this issue.  

“Everyone at the meeting agreed that something needed to be done and I was elected chair of a newly formed Friends Group. 

"Mac Auld and Jean Davies, two stalwarts without whose support we could not have succeeded, joined me and the Friends Group was born.”

 The group’s immediate aim was to make the park a more attractive place by adding new facilities and to attract more visitors by running family events such as Carols in the Park and a St George's Day celebration, which usually attracts between 500 and 1,000 people.

Allen added: “We have spent considerable time, and are very successful at, raising lottery money for new facilities and events. It has taken a decade to get the park into the condition we wanted it to be in. 

"We worked closely with the City Council on its successful Heritage Lottery funding for a war memorial, the revamp of the children’s playground and construction of the popular splash pad. Additionally, the Friends of Gheluvelt Park were awarded £45,000 to install gym equipment and table tennis facilities in the park. 

“I spend up to two days a week working on park-related matters.  Today we have 20 to 30 active Friends members, and a wider membership of more than 700 people who support our work.

"Both categories are very important in that they help with fund raising. I have benefited from working with Worcester City Council and hope it has similarly benefited from my lifetime in industry. The strength of this partnership is essential to bring about change and make things happen. 

 “I know my successor Jude Allen, who has been a member of Friends for many years, will do a great job as chair and that the Friends of Gheluvelt Park will continue to go from strength to strength.

"Today it makes me very happy to walk around the park, see the difference we’ve made and say to our supporters:  ‘Thank you, well done, and together we got it right.’ “

**St George's Day in Gheluvelt Park on Sunday, April, 28 will have a host of activities running from noon until 5pm. They will start with a parade starring St George and the Dragon, which begins at midday by the main park gates. Lots will be on offer for youngsters,  including a bouncy castle, carousel, art tent and organised games.  There will also be duck racing, music from local bands and the Worcester Ukulele Club, and lots of refreshments.