'I got shot when I sneaked into Doncaster park's grounds'
When he was a nipper, Eric Lowery used to sneak into the grounds of Campsall Hall.
He was not the only one. His friends and many other kids in the nearby village did the same.
Born in Askern, he moved into Campsall at a young age. He would climb into the Campsall Hall estate and play. There was a gamekeeper there would chase them out again, and was known to fire rice out of a gun at those he saw.
“It got me in the back of the leg once or twice. It used to smart if it hit,” he said.
That was back in the early 1950s. Times have changed since then.
Today Eric, a retired engineer, aged 69, can go into those grounds whenever he wants – and he frequently does
The estate was later acquired by Doncaster Council, with the hall demolished in the early 80s. Some of the land was used for housing, but the rest of it became Campsall Country Park.
Eric is now one of a group of residents of north Doncaster who are involved in an organisation called Friends of Campsall Country Park, who spend their time trying to improve the site.
He’s not the only one who used to sneak in. Colleague Sue Wroe has similar stories from the 1970s. Retail worker Sue, aged aged 54, remembers sneaking through gaps in the metal railing fence so they could build dens in the grounds and sneak into the building, which was by then derelict.
The friends group has been around for several years, and members are looking to increase the activities going on in the park. They all share a fondness for the site.
Recently they have opened up a pop-up cafe selling refreshments on the site from a gazebo, They have run annual fun days on the groups as well, and have managed to get money for children’s play equipment for primary school youngsters.
They even provide sports equipment that families can turn up and borrow while they are visiting.
But they have big plans.
John Gilliver, a 55-year-old retired firefighter from Sutton, said: “There’s a long term plan to improve health and wellbeing in the area, and as a group, we would like to put in arrangements for a dedicated park keeper or something like that for the area.
“We want the park to have green flag status for its quality. We think there is a argument that it would warrant something like this as part of a five year project.
“We are currently exploring all the funding streams that we think we may be able to access.
“It would be great to have someone on site who knows all about the park and its idiosyncracities.”
In the meantime, the volunteers are keeping on with their efforts to make the park the best it can be day to day.
The pop-up cafe was originally rolled out when the Tour de Yorkshire cycle race rode past the park. They felt it was a good idea, so they have kept it running.
It is generating funds which will go towards paying for a gala day in the park next year, and other projects like planting bulbs and looking after footpaths.
“We aim to be able to support the upkeep of the park,” said volunteer Brenda McLaughlin, aged 65, a retired HR worker. The council has responsibility for the park, but funding is short.
“We managed to get some money for children’s play equipment recently, from Norton and Campsall Parish Council. It should pay for six pieces of play equipment for under 10s – baby swings, climbing frames, a slide and a see saw.
“At the moment we’ve got climbing ropes, a zip wire and basket swing, but they’re for older children.
“For a small group we try to do a lot. We’re also talking about trying to get fitness equipment on the site for older people too.”
The group has held its annual Campsall Fayre for the last few years, and is already planning an event next year. They hope to have a band, a singer, local craft stalls and a non pedigree dog show.
The pop up cafe is not just to raise funds – they also hop it will show that there is the demand for a proper cafe at the park.
“We’re keeping a record of the drinks and snacks that we sell,” said Mrs McLaughlin. “That’s do that if anyone ever says that there is no need for a cafe, we can show them the sales figures.”
Mr Gilliver added: “People have told us there is a need – we’re trying to fill that gap. If there is support for the cafe, and we are filling that need, then we think it may add to a way forward in terms of getting something more permanent. The people who give the Green Flag awards pointed out there was no cafe or toilets.”
But the group realise Campsall is not the same as all parks. Some parks are more formal, but Campsall is more about its woodlands, and wildlife, and its natural habitats for animals.
There are hopes of bringing back cuckoos to the park, and more natural reed beds.
For Mrs Wroe, it is important to keep a site going which meant a lot of her and the others as children.
She said: “I feel like I’m an important part of the park now. It was a big part of my childhood. I used to get chased away from the horses. I like to think that me grandchildren will have the same feelings for the park as I do.”
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