Sandwell park Warley Woods flourishes after Julie Walters appeal to stop it from closing in lockdown

The community hails Dame Julie Walters' effort in ITV News Central's report from Warley Woods.

An historic park which was under threat of closure during lockdown is now facing a brighter future after an appeal by the actress Dame Julie Walters prompted the community to come to the rescue.

Warley Woods in Sandwell has just been awarded its 13th green flag by Keep Britain Tidy and voted one of the UK's favourite parks.

But 18 months ago when the pandemic hit, it was all under threat.

Viv Cole, the manager of Warley Woods Community Trust said: "We went into crisis. All our revenues other than our council grant ran out. We didn't know who long we'd survive without income.

"We decided to appeal to the public. They'd saved Warley Woods twice before. We thought can they do it again? And they did thanks to our patron Julie Walters who got the word out there."

The actress who grew up in the area - and spent a lot of time in the Woods as a child, calling it her 'sanctuary' - recorded a heartfelt appeal from her home saying:

"At the moment it's a very worrying time for those wonderful people that run the Trust because it already manages to exist on a knife edge financially and that was before this (the pandemic) occurred.

"It's relying totally on donations and kindness from people."

Dame Julie Walters on a visit to the woods. Credit: Warley Woods Community Trust

Soon afterwards, Viv said donations started to pour in saying: "There were times I sat at my desk at home crying with all the kindness. It was amazing.

"We're a lot more stable now, people have kept giving donations to us which is lovely, not quite as much as last year but still good.

"This year I sent 500 Christmas cards to people who donate every month. A few years ago that would be a handful. We're in the best place we've been for 20 years. We can really look forward to 2022 fingers crossed."

This isn't the first time the people who loves this place have had to fight for its survival.

In 1905 local residents became concerned that the land - which at the time was privately owned - might be sold off for housing.

Local business man Alexander Chance realised the only way to prevent that was to negotiate a deal to buy it by public subscription. 

Mary Bodfish, Chair of the Smethwick Local History Society, said:

"So they'd got to get the great and the good of Birmingham behind them. They'd got to appeal to the big local firms. They literally had to knock on doors, rattle the collecting tin.

"Children gave their pocket money, Workplaces did collections and they managed to get the funds together and they only had 18 months to do it."

So in 1906 after Alexander Chance's successful fundraiser - what today we might call a crowdfund - the park was open to the public with great fanfare and as he had promised was named The People's Park as it's been known ever since.

Fast forward to 1997 and locals had to step in again when the park became run down - Warley Woods Community Trust was formed and after a long legal process it took complete control of the land  from the council. 

There is no endowment or major benefactor so the trust has to raise 800 pounds every day to pay staff and bills.

Sandwell council gives a grant which it does rely on but it's the people who live nearby who are securing these glorious views for generations to come.  

Warley Woods

  • The woods cover 100 acres - the equivalent of 47 football pitches.

  • It's made up of woodland, open meadow and a nine hole golf course.

  • The current design retains the essential spirit of the 18th century landscape designer  of Humphrey Repton who was brought in to transform it.

  • It's situated in the Warley district of Smethwick in Sandwell

  • It's just three miles from Birmingham city centre.