Public Memories and Visions - the renovation of Drake’s Place Gardens and Reservoir

Carole Sutton, Director of the Centre of Methodological Innovation and Associate Professor (Senior Lecturer) in the School of Law, Criminology and Government is working on an exploratory study of public memories and visions of the restored Drake’s Place Gardens and Reservoir. The £1.4 million renovation work funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, Big Lottery Fund and University of Plymouth saw the fountains in the reservoir reinstated along with the cascade and stream which run through gardens. Listed features such as the watch house were restored, the gardens replanted according to the original 1910 design and information signage included around the site. Closed to public access for many years it offers a green space with running water in an inner city area and promotes an image of escape from the urban city. New access points from North Hill were also introduced to imporve accessibility.

Data was gathered on visitor perceptions at the formal re-opening in June 2014. Initial analysis of 31 semi-structured interviews with individuals, partners and friendship groups revealed a range of different public memories, providing insights into both a sense of place, personal memories and emotions. The individual narratives revealed stories of tragedy and joy, intrigue and curiosity about the past and the restoration. The historical and the rejuvenated situated in family histories, personal biographies and the new experience of the space.

Utilising a walking ethnographic approach follow up interviews are currently being undertaken to explore in greater depth how visitors navigate the spatial dimensions of the reservoir and gardens alongside their personal emotions and memories. It is envisaged that this project will also provide the University with insights into how the space can be maintained and developed for the different stakeholders who access the site.

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