It is with great sadness that one of the stars of the green infrastructure world, Peter Wilkinson, lost his fight against cancer on 9 June 2018. He was instrumental in setting up the Wandle Valley Regional Park Trust, establishing the first community forest in Thames Chase, along with many other achievements over his vast career.
Horticulture Week’s Sarah Cosgrove has written a fitting tribute and explains how Peter has challenged his friends, family and colleagues to make woods more accessible for disabled people:-
‘Wilko Woods’ campaign launched in memory of green infrastructure ‘star’ Peter Wilkinson
20 June 2018, by Sarah Cosgrove
Colleagues and friends have paid tribute to parks consultant Peter Wilkinson, who lost his fight against lymphoma cancer on 9 June 2018, aged 57.
Peter Wilkinson and John Meehan visiting Thames Chase last year. Image: John Meehan
His family has launched a fundraising campaign to create a non-profit organisation in his memory to give disabled people better opportunities to access woodlands. Wilkinson had been working on the plan before his death. The ‘Wilko Woods’ campaign, on the Go Fund Me website has raised £2,600 within the first three days.
Wilkinson ran The Next Field consultancy for the last eight years of a 32-year career which ranged from community forestry to parks, play, business strategy and organisational development to project management and regeneration.
He was passionate about the positive power of green infrastructure and has commented on industry issues in Horticulture Week for more than a decade. He continued to comment on issues close to his heart through social media until just last month, with the “shameful and relentless destruction” of street trees in Sheffield, being of particular concern.
Following a BSc Honours Degree in Geography, an MSc in Recreational Land Management and diplomas in management and marketing he worked in countryside management, becoming the first director of the Thames Chase Community Forest Essex.
Head of sustainability and resilience, waste and environment at Essex County Council John Meehan worked closely with Wilkinson at Thames Chase, one of the three first community forests funded by the Communities Commission and local authorities.
“Peter was great, he never felt like a boss, he always felt like a friendly encouraging person. You went to him with issues and we worked out the best way forward to solve these problems,” he said. “His first task as forest director was to write a forest plan. Those three plans were the first green infrastructure plans that were multi-disciplinary, which was quite something back in 1992.” He said Wilkinson was ahead of his time in seeing that green infrastructure impacted many different areas of life. “People hadn’t really thought about that. He led the way for green infrastructure.”
He explained why people found Wilkinson so easy to work with: “Peter was cheerful, polite and thorough, charming and charismatic. Even though he was a senior practitioner, he felt like your mate who has got a similar problem,” he added.
Meehan said he Wilkinson and former forester Max Hislop made several return trips to the forest to check progress, something which they all gained great satisfaction from.
Hislop wrote on the Wilko Woods fundraising page: “Proud to call you my friend Peter. This fund is typical of you, and an appropriate legacy.”
Other comments include: “Privileged to have worked for and with Mr Wilko over a number of years. Such a gentleman, visionary and lovely man,” from Yvonne Stead. Mike Moser added: “The lovely comments below say it all. Peter, you inspired us all, and will continue to do so. Thanks for all you did for woodlands in SW England.”
Wilkinson moved to work as head of development for Bristol City Council parks service in 1996 and was instrumental in the restoration of Blaise Estate and Ashton Court Estate securing HLF funding and delivering a number of other creative partnership initiatives. He was promoted to parks service manager in 2003.
In an email to parks staff published by the Bristol Post, parks manager Richard Fletcher said Wilkinson had also created many partnerships and relationships outside the council that Bristol continues to benefit from.
“We have suffered from consecutive budget reductions since Pete’s heady days but his parks service still provides us with a benchmark service we can aspire to.
“He was always very supportive to those that worked for him, always ambitious and always took the hard times and the good times in the same easy manner. Even when he left the council he would always support Bristol if the opportunity came along.
“He will be greatly missed by those who knew him and the wider parks fraternity.”
Wilkson was involved with a number of groups during his career. He sat on the Enabling Panel of CABE Space, was a trustee and director of GreenSpace, chair of the Green Space National Forum, chair of GreenSpace South West, a member of the Big Tree Plant Awards Panel, the South West Regional Advisory Committee of the Forestry Commission and the Groundwork West of England Board. He was also a Green Flag judge for several years.
Among his many projects as a consultant, Wilkinson was instrumental in setting up the Wandle Valley Regional Park Trust in south London. Chief executive Sue Morgan said: “It is a huge loss to the industry to have lost Peter – he was such a star in the green infrastructure world.”
He helped restore the Thames Estuary Path in Essex. He also worked with Waltham Forest Council in east London on creating a new woodland at Leyton Jubilee Park and on the restoration of Wanstead Park. The Friends of Wanstead Parklands (FWP) member Richard Arnopp wrote on its Facebook page that “Peter’s contribution to the progress we have made since then has been incalculable.”
Meehan, who is also chairman of the FWP, said that one aspect of Wilkinson’s life which not many people knew was his habit of mentoring people in all walks of life who he thought he could help, for example Leyton Jubillee Park’s café owner. He said that many people who he had contacted about Wilkinson’s sad death had responded with lovely comments about him. “People think he was a lovely guy with a positive attitude. People wanted to work with him. People are really missing him. He was a positive force in all the forums he was involved with.”
Wilkinson’s funeral is being held today (June 20) in Barnstable. He leaves behind his wife Samantha, son Max and daughter Ella. His wife is planning a memorial to him in Bristol, which is expected to take place in around a month.