Mark Evison has been the Park Manager at Alexandra Palace since 2007. With a first-class honours degree in environmental science, his previous positions included seven years managing green spaces for the London Borough of Barnet and a two-year stint as projects officer at Hertfordshire’s Countryside Management Services. He is also a London Parks Benchmarking Group committee member. This group meets to share best practice amongst London’s Parks professionals.

When he arrived, Alexandra Park was coming to the end of a £3.6 million Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) landscape development project. It had begun in 2002 and created the framework for the park we enjoy today. As the Park prepared for its 150th anniversary in 2013, the Friends of Alexandra Park (FoAP) talked to Mark about his critical role in managing this much-loved 196-acre space.

FoAP: What was the brief when you first arrived?

When I first arrived I had to oversee the completion of the HLF funded landscape development plan which had been underway for five years and had been quite extensive: from dredging the lake to creating new avenues and footpaths to rebuilding the cafés and planting trees. I then had to develop a new management plan to consolidate all that work, and which included conservation, community involvement and putting out the tender for a new grounds maintenance contract.

One of the conditions of the HLF funding was that we apply for a Green Flag award, the scheme which recognises the best green spaces in the country. I was delighted when we received the first one in 2008 and have continued to get it every year since then. The Park has also received the Green Heritage award, which is based on how a park interprets, promotes and conserves its historical features. There have been a number of other awards as well (see box).

I think it’s important to stress that groups like the Friends of Alexandra Park play a big role in awards like these. Activities such as running the Information Centre and organising various walks and activities for local people are an important part of these applications.

FoAP: What does your typical day look like?

It’s not just a walk in the Park! I arrive in the morning and start off by catching up on emails, checking the daily security report and talking to the grounds manager about the plans for the day. Our grounds maintenance staff consists of one supervisor and five operatives who do everything from picking up the litter to mowing the grass to trimming shrubs to unblocking the drains.

Currently I am working on a report for the Board about the Park properties and thinking about next year’s 150th anniversary celebrations. Often I’ll put the boots on and go out to have talks with contractors working around the Park.

Part of my job also includes overseeing the management of the various activities we run such as the golf course and fun fairs. Then there are the various meetings ranging from health and safety to operations to discussions with our chief executive, Duncan Wilson.

FoAP: What is your vision for the Park’s future?

While thanks to the HLF process the right framework is in place, the quality of some of the individual features around the Park could be improved. For example, I recently visited Victoria Park in Hackney and was impressed with its huge new play area and how some of the old Victorian buildings have been converted. I’d love to see a big, thriving play area in our Park.

There are a lot of exciting things going on like the regeneration plans for Alexandra Palace that Duncan Wilson and his team are working on, along with the bid being made for a lottery grant to redevelop the BBC studios and the theatre. I believe that all this will have a really beneficial knock-on effect for the Park.

FoAP: How important is community involvement in keeping the Park special?

It’s very important. Parks are for people and, after all, this is the People’s Palace. We need the Park to be busy and popular and to make it safe. Having a vibrant Park helps to crowd out crime.

FoAP: Are there any accomplishments you are particularly proud of?

In 2010 the Park hosted the Natural History Museum and the BBC for the London region’s Springwatch Wild Day Out. The BBC organised a fete with lots of activities related to wildlife and biodiversity while the Natural History Museum organised the first 24-hour bioblitz in a large London Park.

As a result 694 types of plants, animals and fungi were identified by naturalists and the public. While these were mostly common species which you would expect to find in a well-functioning park with a diverse range of habitats, 5% of them were rare or protected. For instance, we found a rare grass near the Rose Garden which has meant we have now changed the way we manage that area so it can grow and seed itself.

FoAP: Any favourite parts of the Park?

I love the heritage of the Park and am still learning about its history. We have everything from an old rifle range to parish boundary markers to a Royal Observer Corps bunker from the Cold War.

I came here with my family one Bank Holiday weekend when the weather was lovely. We played in the playground, had a picnic, went to the fun fair and enjoyed the art fair. It was just wonderful to see the Park so full of people taking advantage of the wide range of facilities we have here and enjoying themselves.

I must admit I don’t really have as much time to enjoy the Park as I would like to because I am usually rushing off to a meeting or having to solve a problem. Even if I manage to go for a walk here or in another Park I can’t help seeing things that might need attention. It’s a bit like a busman’s holiday.

FoAP: Thank you for finding the time to talk with us.

Receiving their just rewards

The good work that Mark and his team have been doing has been acknowledged by a number of prestigious awards for the Park over the last few years:

2007: BALI Award, Mainly Hard Landscaping Construction over £100,000

2008: Green Flag Award

2009: Green Flag Award, London in Bloom: silver gilt, Large Park or Public Garden

2010: Green Flag Award, Green Heritage Award

2011: Green Flag Award, Green Heritage Award,

London in Bloom: silver gilt,

Large Park or Public Garden

2012 Green Flag Award, Green Heritage Award,

London in Bloom: silver gilt, Large Park or Public Garden

Fourth place in Keep Britain Tidy’s People’s Choice Award