A COMMUNITY project to bring a forgotten downtown park back to life is now officially complete.
Marshall Gardens was for many decades a scenic focal point along the banks of the River Mersey and opposite the Warrington Cenotaph on Bridgefoot.
It has, however, been neglected in recent years and has become a magnet for anti-social behavior – but is now blooming again after being transformed into a beautiful memorial garden.
The site is named after the Honorable Alderman Edward Marshall MBE, an influential and respected member of the community who died in 1983 at the age of 103.
After an initial cleanup of the site supported by volunteers, the Warrington Borough Council environmental team started at the site in September for the first major stage of the refurbishment.
All tired, overgrown trees and shrubs – with the exception of one specimen acer – have been cleared from the park, with all areas ground down to the ground.
A total of 18 new trees were erected in their place, with a layout specially designed to provide unobstructed views of the gardens.
A file photo shows Marshall Gardens in its heyday
The park also includes 12 new benches, landscaping work, the planting of a variety of colorful flowers, and ornate gates and railings.
The idea behind the project came from Lisa Billing, whose son, Private Daniel Wade, of Latchford, was tragically killed fighting in Afghanistan in 2012 alongside five of his comrades – The Warrior Six.
Running through the gardens as an integral part is the Path of Heroes – a permanent tribute to those who served in the armed forces or utility workers – which is championed by Lisa.
She was present at the official opening ceremony on Sunday, which marked the 10th anniversary of the deaths of Daniel and his fellow Warrior Six, alongside the town’s mayor, Cllr Maureen Creaghan.
Also in attendance were members of the Warrior Six family, representatives of the Armed Forces, community members and volunteers who have supported the project and Council Cabinet Member for Recreation and Community, Cllr Tony Higgins.
“I’ve always wanted to create a fitting tribute in our city for my son Daniel and his castmates in The Warrior Six,” said Lisa, who spent years researching and developing the project.
“I am so proud that this has now happened and that work is complete to bring Marshall Gardens back to life as a beautiful memorial garden.
Lisa Billing and her family on the bench in tribute to Pte Daniel Wade at Marshall Gardens
“It’s really moving to have received so much support from so many people in the community, including local volunteers.
“I am very grateful for the time and effort they have put into this project, from weeding and litter picking to painting the fences or registering to support the long term maintenance of the gardens.
“I would also like to thank the generous companies who have so kindly offered their sponsorship.
“I’m really excited about the future of Marshall Gardens, and can’t wait for it to shine again as a true community garden for everyone to enjoy – from the local community and schoolchildren to veterans and their families.
“It will be a haven of peace and reflection in front of our cenotaph, where everyone can come to reflect, remember and honor someone who – like Daniel to me – is a true hero.”
An important part of the opening ceremony was the planting of the 18 new trees, specifically chosen to bring color, vibrancy and life to the revitalized gardens.
The selected trees, which come from all over the world, include a Golden Indian Bean tree, a ‘Candyfloss’ tree, a Black Mulberry tree and a Persian Ironwood tree.
A bench installed at Marshall Gardens in tribute to Pte Daniel Wade
Some of the trees are unique to Marshall Gardens and found nowhere else in Warrington, and among the new trees are six cherry blossom trees – one for each of the Warrior Six in honor of the sacrifice they made.
The cherry blossoms were chosen because their fleeting bloom each year is a reminder that life is beautiful but fleeting, and they were planted by community heroes named by residents.
‘Marshall Gardens has special significance due to its location opposite the Cenotaph in Warrington, but in recent years it had become a forgotten part of our town centre,’ commented Cllr Creaghan.
“I am absolutely delighted that the gardens have now been restored to their former glory, and from the beautiful new trees to the new themed benches and the heroes path, the gardens have truly found new life.
“In 2019 we completed our project to restore, enhance and save the Cenotaph for future generations, and it is fantastic that Marshall Gardens has also been enhanced and preserved.
“By creating a memorial garden here, we have provided the perfect companion for our cenotaph with a true place of peace and beauty where people can come to reflect and remember.”
A special feature of the garden is the heroes’ path, with residents having been encouraged to purchase and dedicate a stone to a local hero over the past few months.
Lisa Billing watches the first stones laid in the new Heroes Pathway
All proceeds from the sale of stones are donated to support the work of the Warrington Wolves Foundation and St Rocco’s Hospice.
Cllr Higgins added: “It’s been a fantastic project that has seen the whole community work together to create something really special.
“Over the past 18 months, these gardens opposite our Cenotaph, and with their fantastic views over the River Mersey, have undergone a complete transformation.
“It has been a real source of pride to see so many people devoting their time and effort to this project.
“It really is a fantastic example of how, by working together, we can achieve great things.
“Marshall Gardens is now ready to begin a new era as a vibrant memorial garden, and I look forward to it, as it did when it opened, providing a welcoming and scenic community park in the heart of Warrington.”