Today marks the official unveiling of the new green space and play area, Kashmir Park, in Toller Bradford. The plans to transform the overgrown allotment site into a green space for the local community to use has been on the cards since 1992, but due to council funds being allotted elsewhere, the park was put on the backburner.
The name of the space, Kashmir Park, is important to the people of Toller as for many, it represents the link between where they come from and where they are today. For some, it will just be a park where kids can play and for others, it is the embodiment of almost three decades of hard work and a celebration of equality and different cultures in Bradford.
Councillor Arshad Hussain, Councillor Fozia Shaheen, and Councillor Kamran Hussain are the three main driving forces for getting this park up and running. In 2010, every ward in Bradford in received £100,000 to put towards councillor-backed projects from the sale of Leeds Bradford Airport by five West Yorkshire councils; Bradford, Calderdale, Kirklees, Leeds, and Wakefield.
The councillors in Toller at the time used some of the funds to get the land released and available to develop on. However, due to budget cuts, it wasn’t until 2018 the plans to create a park got underway.
The grand reveal today saw Bradford Lord Mayor Councillor Shabir Hussain, who moved to the city with his parents when he was 8, over 52 years ago, from Azad Kashmir, as well as the Lord Mayor of Leeds, Councillor Asghar Khan Leeds, who also moved from Kashmir to Leeds when he was a boy, in attendance. MP for Bradford West Naz Shar and MP for Bradford East Imran Hussain were also at the event, along with other councillors, council members, and prominent figures from Bradford.
One of the Labour councillors for Toller, Fozia Shaheen, said: “Today is the grand opening of Kashmir Park, with the Lord Mayor of Bradford and the Lord Mayor of Leeds in attendance to do the official opening. Along with the children and you people behind us, we have the organisations who have helped the park to happen in the middle of the community.
“It is absolutely amazing to see how many people will be using the park. This goes for children, young people, elders, people with disabilities and mental health issues. It is an amazing community initiative.
“Bradford Council, my colleagues Cllr Arshad Hussain and Cllr Kamran Hussain who have taken part in getting the park where it is, Saira Ali from the landscapes team at the council has played a major part, and JU:MP, who have supported the initiative.
Cllr Kamran Hussain officially opened the park and said: “I remember when I was elected in 2018, myself and Cllr Arshad Hussain and Cllr Fozia Shaheen were walking and this area was mainly allotments, it was overgrown and an absolute eyesore.
“Today, we are standing three and a half years later seeing something that is heavily used by local communities.
“This Park did not start only four years ago, this started in 1992 when the place was secured initially. There wasn’t enough funding at that time but over time there have been other elements, and previous and current councillors have played a tremendous role in developing the area.”
The new name for the park was suggested by residents living near the park and championed by the three local ward councillors. It is believed to be the first park in Britain to be named after the Kashmir region. More than 20% of the population in Bradford are Pakistani, with the majority of people able to trace their roots back to the Mirpur District of Azad Kashmir.
Lord Mayor Cllr Shabir Hussain spoke on the importance of recognising the importance of Kashmir. He said: “The name ‘Kashmir Park’ means something for us, it is where we come from. It is not just for us though; it is for everyone.” MP Naz Shah also spoke on the historical importance of Kashmir. She said: “Bradford is known not only for where history is made but for its resilience. I congratulate everyone who has played a part in creating this park over the past twenty-nine years.
“It is also important from a historical perspective. There are many people here today that have links to Kashmir, including myself, and Kashmir is something that is close to our hearts because there is still the humanitarian crisis there and how no matter we celebrate today, our hearts remain with those who have been violated and do not have the benefit of an open-air space like this one.
“The park is also a reminder that whilst we have our freedom, the Kashmiris don’t, and we need to keep that alive. We also need to remember that councillors and elected members don’t get thanked and today shows the commitment that they have to the community and that is something to be absolutely proud of and something to be celebrated.”
Bradford Council’s Landscape, Design and Conservation team led by Saira Ali developed the new play site, working closely with JU:MP, local families and the local councillors to transform the unused area into a play area that can be enjoyed by the wider communities of Bradford district.
The emphasis of the new Kashmir Park is on ‘natural play’, as well as providing a safe place for families to meet outside together. Wildflowers and tree planting work alongside landscaping to form natural elements with rocks and boulders for children to climb on. These will integrate with new footpaths and a wooded area to explore.
Over 2000 children and residents were consulted and were involved in helping to design the local play area which opened in June this year.
Ms Ali said: “For decades this area laid abandoned, not really usable. Toller has a lack of green spaces with the nearest place being Lister Park, which is about 15 to 20 minutes away, which is not accessible for some. So, working with the local councillors we worked out how we could use this area and create a space that the local community can use.
“There are schools in the area so it was very much engaging with them and creating a space that they could use as an educational resource as well but also just having somewhere nice to go, to be able to step outside your front door and have somewhere to walk and I think that is what we have created here.
“The project has very much been led by the community; they have been involved in every step. JU:MP came in and we’ve worked with them looking at creating a space for children aged between four and fourteen like this.”
The project, primarily funded through JU:MP with additional funding from Public Health’s Living Well and the Tranche 1 Emergency Active Travel fund, incorporates natural paths to help link residents to schools and other community facilities by giving opportunities to walk through the specially designed natural environment, allowing for healthier and safer ways to connect the local community areas.
Thanks to a European funded project INTERREG BEGIN, design measures including sustainable drainage and habitat areas have been created in the park to help mitigate the effects of climate change such as flooding, Urban Heat Islands, poor air quality, and other risks associated with more extreme weather conditions.