The creation of zoo-themed play area in Wellingborough’s Croyland Gardens enters its final stage on Tuesday 22 February when giant wooden animal sculptures are craned into place.
The four sculptures - a lion, tiger, elephant and bear - will sit alongside the play equipment that was put in place earlier this month. The play area also features giant engraved boulders decorated with animal designs from local school children. The natural materials used in the play area were chosen after public consultation revealed that people were keen that it should complement the formal setting of the gardens.
The play area will be officially opened on Saturday 2 April, when a town centre event takes place to celebrate the completion of works both at Croyland Gardens and Market Street.
Cllr Graham Lawman, chairman of the development committee said: "The zoo theme for the play area has been chosen to reflect the heritage of the site. We consulted the public on the project and as a result of that we chose natural materials for the equipment and revised the design of the play area to appeal to the under 7s. We also changed the position of the play area following public feedback. The project is another step in our town centre's regeneration. We want to make visiting the town centre a great experience, and enhancing public spaces such as Croyland Gardens helps to do that."
Cllr Lawman adds: "Although the play area looks finished, it will need to remain fenced off as we have to wait for the landscaping to settle. So we would ask people to wait until the fences are removed before trying out any of the play equipment, and come and join us on 2 April for the opening party."
The zoo theme was chosen to reflect the heritage of the site. The original zoo was situated in the gardens of Croyland Abbey and it was opened to the public on 13 June 1943. The zoo housed a private collection of exotic animals, including monkeys, lions, panthers, a baby elephant and a giant tortoise amongst others. Behind the Horseshoe pub there was a penguin pool. The lion was taken to the cinema, the local park and generally treated like a pet. The zoo expanded during the 50s, and other species were imported, however the RSPCA criticised the poor conditions that the animals were kept in. Matters came to a head when a man broke into the zoo and was mauled by a leopard, losing part of his arm. The zoo closed in 1970 and became the borough council offices and Swansgate shopping centre.
The work in Croyland Gardens has been funded by money the council received from the government to enhance Wellingborough's public spaces.