How Funges Meadow began

by | Mar 18, 2020 |

Thank you to Dr Frances Alexander who wrote this article for us on the history of Funges Meadow

During the years between 1995 and 1999 Wycombe District Council was run by a coalition of Liberal Democrat and Labour councillors.  Realising that it was our one chance to make a difference – we allotted areas of responsibility and got down to doing as much as we could in the four years available.  

Because I had drafted the Lib Dem manifesto I was the Chairman of Policy and Resources Committee for the first two years. Then I was asked to be Chairman of Council.   At that point a representative of the Rio Conference came to explain to the councillors what we should be doing to take up the concerns of global warming and climate change.  I talked this over with my husband and decided I would be Council Chairman for the year 1997/8 and I would take the Climate Change Agenda as my theme for the year, 

The council staff were wonderfully supportive and helped me take forward many initiatives … Hundreds of low energy light bulbs were given away, a new waste recycling strategy was implemented, a council house in Lane End was rebuilt – with extra insulation – and finished with such a small energy bill that the resident bought it as soon as possible!  We collected waste paper for the first time

I was delighted when one of the council officers suggested that Funges Meadow should be made into a nature reserve.  I don’t have a photograph of me on the JCB digging up the first two scoops of soil to start the pond or “lake”, but I have a few of the nature reserves early days.

One of the projects was to turn the Holywell Swimming Pool cafe – empty at that point for 18 years and by then somewhat vandalised – into an environment centre.  I asked the council  group leaders who said OK provided it cost the council nothing!

I called together all the local eco groups. from the Organic Gardeners to BBOWT and they all decided that the old cafe building should be made into an environment centre and, moreover, a committee was formed and they decided to go for a substantial landfill tax grant!   The Environment Centre on Holywell Mead was opened in January 2003,  It was the most eco building in the council’s possession! 

The link between the Rangers and the Centre was strong in those early days,and the regular days the Rangers had for volunteers wood management always started and finished at the Centre.  We had an observation bee hive and an exhibition hall and managed for a while to run a financially viable organisation.   

The Centre folded when the manager became ill, and financial plans had not been made to cover such an eventuality!  The trustees of the Centre were running a week by week basis and the council took this as an opportunity to use the building to enhance the work of the swimming pool.  

I think it was my work in the Environment Centre that got the votes for a bus to be named after me.  I would be there during school holidays, pointing out the queen bee to the children. and the different tasks being undertaken by the bees around the hive.

We had two further goes as an Environment Centre – both relatively short term ventures but each valuable in promoting the message of the need to prevent climate change.  

In 2004 there was an exhibition  called “A Year in the life of Funges Meadow”  The pictures are stored and I hope there will be another Environment Centre  in High Wycombe before long!

Frances Alexander