ARMED with only a spade and a big idea, Dean Schmid was like a child going to build a sandcastle as he set about rejuvenating a neglected local park.
Just 12 months later he and his small team of volunteers, with no funding and scarce resources, are on the way to creating a natural haven in a patch of land neglected for generations.
Mr Schmid, a chef who moved to the Kirkliston area seven years ago, said no-one used to visit the park – situated in a dip between a derelict distillery and new housing estates – because of tales of drug-dealing and fly-tipping. Now the area is set to be used for village gala days, and fundraisers and enjoyed by all sections of the community.
The Friends of Pikes Pool have made such astonishing progress in the Kirkliston park that pensioners who remember the area in its glory days become emotional at they way it has been transformed.
“I had this idea that I wanted somewhere for my kids to play in the way I did when I was growing up,” said the father-of-three.
“The place just had never been looked after, so I went to the council and asked them about it. They asked what I had, I said ‘a spade’, and they told me to get on with it if that’s what I wanted to do.”
Since then other men in the area have come forward from various walks of life, some of whom volunteer at the park on a full-time basis.
The work is impressive. They have cleared the embankments of litter, which included bikes, washing machines and three separate three-piece suites. A stagnant lake between the reservoir and the old distillery has been cleaned, had waterfall and log bridges introduced and has been diverted back into the burn which runs into the River Almond. The footpath has been cleared, attractive twig fences brought in and chopped logs carved into benches.
Amazingly, none of those involved has any landscaping experience, and they admit they are still learning as they go along. “We want there to be something for the whole community here,” Mr Schmid said.
“At one side we’ll have a tranquil area where the older people can sit and look out to the water, then a playing area for football or any sports, and areas for nature and wildlife.
“The long-term plan is to spend three years changing all this. It’s the reason anyone would move out of the city, and kids can play how they are supposed to, running round trees, down slopes and jumping over streams and coming home filthy.”
Thanks to the work, wildlife is being attracted back to the area, including a kingfisher, a grey heron and swans.
Crucially, the group said, the return of animals and flowers should safeguard the area against future housing and road development, which has dogged the village.
Another volunteer, John Fleming, said: “We’ve got all kinds of different people helping with different strengths. We’ve had no help at all, no funding. It’s just been a case of waiting years for funding to come through, or get on with it ourselves. We dug out a whole stretch for the burn with just a spade.”
Agnes Rothney, who runs a history page for Kirkliston on Facebook, added: “What these guys are doing is just amazing. They’re just volunteers who are committed to an idea. They deserve so much more help and praise.”