An important part of the project was to gain information about the history of the use of this plot of land by local people.
When the fence was installed around it between November 2011 and January 2012, together with “Warning - Keep Out” signs. Various tree houses, and a complex system of bike ramps which had been constructed by local people, were destroyed.
There was a public outcry and several reports in the local press. The signs were rapidly and creatively defaced. Local people submitted applications for Town Green status and for three designated public footpaths. Lancaster City Council imposed a Tree Protection Order on the site.
In 2014 StoreyG2 appointed two Lancaster-based artists, Helen Hicks and Rachel-Ann Powers, as ‘Engagement Artists’ to assist with the project, particularly in contacting and interviewing local people about their memories of this plot of land known as Freeman’s Wood.
We contacted the people who had made and supported the applications for designated footpaths and town green, and followed up a variety of other contacts, including three academics at the Law School at Lancaster University. We talked to local people who have used this land – the dog walkers, footballers, cyclists, den-builders, nature watchers, etc. - and collected their memories of Freeman's Wood, and their wishes for its future.
We recorded interviews with over 30 individuals. Here are a few short quotes:
"With a space like Freeman’s Wood you can just make it up as you go along. It’s a creative space for kids to do whatever their imagination tells them they can do."
"We used it as our playground. We used to swing in the trees and bike-ride along the paths. We would act out the film we had seen that week. We would be Tarzan in the trees one week, sword fencing the next."
"Local BMX fans had modified the footpaths in the wood to make a bike course. They had made artificial hillocks and ramps. They were wonderful, made out of pallets and tree stumps."
"The fence felt like an insult."
The fence obviously deters access to Freeman’s Wood, so the use of this land by members of the public diminished initially. But the fence is not continuous, including a section beside the cycle path of a few hundred metres where there is no fencing. Also, gaps were created at various points, so the fence is permeable and it is still fairly easy for people to access the land. By 2015 it has become well used by local people once more, and there are well-trodden footpaths, and clear cycle paths. Lancashire County Council has given approval in principle to the designation of the three requested footpaths across it.