Once choked and eroded paths are being rejuvenated in projects which are bringing multiple benefits, finds Sandra Dick

The name given to the patch of ground at the heart of Paisley’s Ferguslie Park was quaint enough: the village green.

It seems appropriate – the circle of green space is surrounded by homes, schools, a community centre; an ideal place for people to gather, socialise, relax.

However the reality, concedes Terry McTernan, was rather less appealing.

“It was a hot spot for anti-social behaviour,” he says. “When it was dark, people would go there for a drink and they’d set a bin on fire to keep warm.

“It was a dumping ground, where people went when it was dark to drink because no one saw you.

“I’ve lived here for 23 years and have never seen it a bouncy castle here, a car boot sale. Nothing. No one used it as a community space.”

Over 20 years of neglect, the paths leading from the village green were overgrown with weeds. There were no benches to rest and nothing other than dumped rubbish and broken bottles.

Today, however, as the result of a remarkable community effort that has had benefits which surely no-one could have foreseen, the village green and its network of paths have been revitalised.

The latest phase of regeneration work is now begin following the award of a grant that will enable the often maligned Ferguslie Park community to create access ramps for wheelchairs and prams, to install benches and to complete the challenge to turn what was a village green in name only, into a true public space.

The grant, confirmed this week, is among 44 projects from the Isle of Skye to the Borders to receive a share of £72,560 by Scotland’s walking charity Paths for All.

They include communities with plans to install signs and lighting to make them more accessible to local users, to more adventurous schemes to open long-forgotten areas to a new generation of visitors and to develop tourism.

The money will go towards simple tasks such as clearing debris to structural improvements, installing signage and lighting, hiring tools and contractors to help with work, promoting routes and improving biodiversity along path networks.

At the heart of each project is a powerful community effort to improve the surroundings and bring neighbours closer. As a result, the estimated figure for the community groups’ volunteer in-kind contribution is calculated to be over £271,000.

At Ferguslie Park, the benefits are said to go far beyond simply tidying up an area so unpleasant that elderly residents are said to pay for a taxi journey to take them around it, rather than cross its few hundred yards by foot.

“No one was holding anyone to account over it,” says Mr McTernan, who runs Darkwood Crew, part of Ferguslie Community Council which is dedicated to cleaning up the area.

“It was a downtrodden area, there was no maintenance. Was it any surprise that people were dumping sofas there when no-one appeared to be giving a monkey’s about the area?”

Over the past three years, the Darkwood Crew has spearheaded efforts to rejuvenate the village green.

Routes clogged with two decades of weeds have been cleared, events have lured people back to the area and there are plans to create a community orchard and vegetable patches.

“It was a thoroughfare, a dumping ground,” adds McTernan. “Now we are seeing people using the paths regularly. There’s a mud kitchen for children to play, we’ll soon have benches and planters so it looks nice and we can use the area for community events which is what it was intended for.

“It has brought the community together.”

Along with volunteers to carry out path-clearing work came people with pots of soup and plates of sandwiches, he recalls. It grew into a community meal initiative, which sees cans and bottles recycled for cash used to provide meals for 50 people every week.

Meanwhile, in the pipeline are plans for a motorised wheelchair to bring otherwise virtually housebound people outdoors.

Similar grants last year helped a group in Coupar Angus buy tools to help cut undergrowth and trim hedges so paths could become more accessible, while Northern Corridor Community Volunteers in North Lanarkshire received £3000 to reopen a previously unstable path through a golf course. The residents from Gartcosh, Chryston, Moodiesburn, Muirhead and Mount Ellen also installed signposts along the local path network

Meanwhile, volunteers from South Ayrshire Paths Initiative received money to improve an ancient path in the Scottish Wildlife Trust’s Ayr Gorge Woodlands reserve, rumoured to be the location of Robert Burns’ engagement to Highland Mary.

This year’s grant schemes have been funded by Scottish Natural Heritage, Transport Scotland and the Scottish Government.

Other areas across Scotland are seeing their own benefits. In the Ettrick and Yarrow valley in Selkirk, an old walking route called the Captain’s Road which linked the two communities, will finally be restored after being destroyed by forestry.

While in Dunblane, a quiet road linking the town with Bridge of Allan and onwards to Stirling which offers cyclists and walkers a safe route away from the A9 has been granted funding for an upgrade to protect it from erosion.

Work will also be carried out by young people under the watch of Kyle of Lochalsh Development Trust to upgrade paths in the area, and in Minginish in the Isle of Skye, a grant will improve access through the construction of a bridge and paths.

Meanwhile, in West Fife, a community-driven project will see finishing touches put to a network of paths which have opened up a former country house estate and regenerated interest in the area’s once-proud coal mining history.

West Fife Woodland Group will use their grant to signpost walkers and cyclists through a 10-miles circular route linking Valleyfield Woodland Park, Devilla Forest and the Fife Coastal Path.

Despite being a stone’s throw from the Outlander’s tourist hub of Culross, the area was typically bypassed by visitors.

“One objective has been to get people out doing healthy things, walking, cycling,” explains the group’s Frank Waterworth. “But it’s also an area of former colliery sites and coal bings which are now covered with trees. Valleyfield Woodland Park was once an old country estate which in February is covered with snowdrops.”

Ian Findlay CBE, Chief Officer at Paths for All, says: “There is a growing movement of people choosing to walk or cycle instead of using a car as the public tunes into the benefits this can bring to their health and our shared environments.

“Without care or upgrades, paths can sadly become unsafe, unstable and fall out of use making walking and enjoying the outdoors difficult for many.

“Improved paths really build on community spirit as they’re more frequently used by commuters, dog walkers, joggers, children playing and people enjoying the simple but very important pleasure of just going for a walk.”

Meanwhile, at Ferguslie Park, named in 2016 as Scotland’s most deprived area, the village green is set to finally earn its place at the heart of the community.

Soon - for the first time ever – it will feature a sparkling Christmas tree entirely made from recycled materials, with old tyres painted to resemble snowmen and festive events for children.

“We’re schemie boys and lassies doing this, there’s not a paid member of staff among us,” adds Mr McTernan.

“We are constantly beaten by a stick and told we are the most deprived place in Scotland but I see real diamonds out there that make this community work.

“Clearing the paths has brought a sense of community and is meeting needs.

“The real changes here lie in the attitudes of the local people.”