Last week, Friends of Knottingley Park members raised their glasses to toast a job well done, acknowledge past members and remember all of the friendships made over the past 28 years.
It was the group’s final meeting, after making the decision to fold due to a declining membership and ageing working group.
“There were about eight to 10 of us – many over 80, one or two over 90 – and no-one would take on the job of president or secretary,” former Friends of Knottingley Park secretary Heather Sell said.
Closing the books was a tough decision to make, but Mrs Sell said the remaining members were all proud of their efforts and knew the Waimate District Council would make sure the park remained a glittering jewel in Waimate’s crown.
“It’s just the way it is,” she said.
“Things come and go, I suppose, that’s the way of life.”
Friends of Knottingley Park was formed in 1993, after councillor Brian Harris called a public meeting asking for people to help the council’s parks and reserves staff maintain the park.
“The grounds were getting a bit run down, and there was a bit of concern about it,” Mrs Sell said.
“There were lots of branches down, lots of long grass.”
Since then, working bees had been held on the last Friday of every month and the group had become citizen advocates for the park.
“Once they got all these volunteers coming along, they really kept it tidy and they’ve helped ever since then.”
Thanks to membership fees set at $5 a year and some generous donations, the group was able to make a raft of improvements at the park, from building the stone wall entrance and installing new tables and seats to planting trees and daffodils.
After the park received arboretum status in 2017, Robert and Megan Godfrey created a tree trail booklet, detailing the many trees in the park and their history.
The group had also put in thousands of volunteer hours to landscape new areas, renew fences and maintain the gardens of the park, and in 2019, received a civic award from the Waimate District Council for its efforts.
In 2000, there were as many as 96 members – although Mrs Sell said it was always a core few who regularly volunteered at working bees.
Mrs Sell has been involved in the group for about 15 years, becoming a member after moving to Waimate from Southland in 2002. Some members had been involved since the group’s inception.
Mr Harris, the group’s founder, died on January 15 this year and, as he had requested before his death, was driven around the park on the day of his funeral.
Knottingley Park and Arboretum was a “beautiful” area, Mrs Sell said.
“It’s peaceful and it’s alive with all the trees, and all the birds.”
It was an asset to the district, used by a wide range of groups, such as the army, pony clubs and cricket clubs, and had hosted a range of events, including weddings and campervan rallies.