FRIENDS OF WARNEFORD MEADOWWelcome to the FoWM website.
What is Warneford Meadow?
Warneford Meadow is an unspoiled oasis of calm and rurality in the built-up area of east Oxford. It comprises seven hectares of grassland and an orchard planted in the 1940s, hidden behind the houses of Hill Top Road and the Warneford and Churchill Hospitals, and bounded on the east by Boundary Brook and Southfield Golf Course. Public footpaths follow its edges and there’s a well-used path across the middle. Get to it from Hill Top Road, from Roosevelt Drive by the nursing home, or across the brook from the Churchill site.
The Meadow was bought by Warneford Hospital in 1918 to protect it from development and provide food and therapeutic outdoor recreation for patients. The hospital farm closed in the 1960s, but the Meadow was grazed or a hay crop taken until the 1980s. Local people have long used the Meadow for recreation – walking, blackberry picking, and children’s games. In recent years, it was neglected by its owners, the NHS, and began to run wild. It has developed a varied ecology typical of unmanaged grassland, and is home to a wide variety of birds and other creatures, but its diversity is threatened by advancing scrub.
Why Friends of Warneford Meadow?
In 2006, the Hospital Trust proposed to sell the Meadow for development. Local residents set up Friends of Warneford Meadow (FoWM) to resist these plans. We were strikingly successful in achieving our initial main objective. Following a sixteen day long informal Public Inquiry at which 25 local residents gave evidence about their use of and love for the Meadow, Oxfordshire County Council upheld their Inspector’s recommendation and in April 2009 voted to register it as a Town Green.
You can download and read the Inspector's Report by clicking on the link here: Report (doc, 451 K)
The NHS sought judicial review, but in April 2010 the High Court ruled against them, allowing registration to proceed. FoWM raised over £60,000 to meet the costs of legal advice and representation throughout the four-year campaign. Registration protects the rights of local residents to use the Meadow for informal recreation, and precludes almost any building on the land.
Ownership of the Meadow
However, although the Meadow was protected, it was still owned by the Department of Health (DH), who largely lost interest now it had no value as development land. FoWM and others had lots of ideas about how the Meadow could be enhanced for the benefit of local residents, hospital staff and patients and others, but had no direct power to implement them.
There followed a lengthy period of uncertainty while DH considered whether or not to sell the Meadow and, if so, to whom. At one point it seemed that residents might have to raise the money to buy it and, in preparation for this eventuality, FoWM turned itself into a limited company to make this possible.
Meanwhile DH licensed FoWM volunteers to do some work to try to stop the Meadow and orchard from becoming completely overgrown by reducing the spread of brambles, wild plum and invasive species such as Himalayan Balsam and so help to restore its recreational, environmental and aesthetic value. In spring 2013 most of the Meadow was given a top cut for the first time since the 1980s, and this was repeated in autumn and again in spring 2014.
In autumn 2013, the Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust (who run the Warneford Hospital) decided to acquire the Meadow as a therapeutic and recreational resource for patients and staff at the Hospital and – we hope – also for those at the Churchill Hospital and the new Maggie’s Centre on the Churchill site. The Trust finally took ownership in August 2014.
Management of the Meadow
In January 2014, the Trust sent us a draft “Ecological Management Plan” for the Meadow, and we met to discuss it with Trust representatives and the consultants who wrote it. We broadly welcomed proposals for enhancing the Meadow’s environment and biodiversity, though we expressed some concern that the Plan said nothing about recreational use by local residents. The Trust said they would terminate FoWM’s licence and take full responsibility for management, but there would still be some scope to involve volunteers.
On 28 March 2014, the Trust held a major event at the Warneford Hospital to mark NHS Sustainability Day. The Prime Minister, David Cameron, planted a tree and spoke in support of the Trust’s work, and other speakers referred to the therapeutic value of outdoor activity for mental health patients and the opportunity the Meadow presented to develop this. The Trust’s Chief Executive Stuart Bell said: “We… are fortunate to have a large green space, the Warneford Meadow, right next to the hospital site. We look forward to working with partners and neighbours to use this area for the benefit of our patients.”
Beginning early in 2015, contractors working for the Trust are implementing the Management Plan. Cutting of the grassland has continued, scrub has been cleared in the orchard, and a new entrance created from the hospital grounds. FoWM has worked with the Trust to design information boards to be placed at the Meadow’s entrances. However, we still await information from the Trust about future work needed, including further scrub clearance and pollarding the dangerously overgrown willows along Boundary Brook, and the potential role of volunteers.
We understand that hospital staff have begun to make use of the Meadow for the benefit of patients.
A Future for FoWM?
At a recent Board meeting, we considered whether FoWM still had a useful function, now that the Meadow is safe from development and – it appears - in benign long-term ownership. We concluded that we do still have a worthwhile role, in monitoring the Trust’s management of the Meadow on behalf of local residents and potentially in organising volunteer work parties to deliver improvements to supplement the Trust’s work. We also think we need to work more closely with local residents’ associations (DRARA, HTRRA and Highfield RA) in organising community events on the Meadow such as Apple Days.
Get Involved in FoWM
However, FoWM will survive only with the active involvement of local residents. Much the same group of people have run FoWM since its inception ten years ago. Some members of the group are stepping down and we need someone to take on the role of ‘first point of contact’. We need fresh, enthusiastic, perhaps younger people willing to become engaged, one of whom would ideally take on the contact point role. If you are interested, please get in touch.
You can phone, email or write.
FOWM Joint Co-ordinator: Positon currently vacant
or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
or contact any other member of the Board, who are Andrew Carter, Chris Dunabin, David Sutton, Graeme Salmon, Andrew Wilkinson, Paul Deluce and Sietske Boeles.