On 17 July, Leader of Hampshire County Council, Councillor Roy Perry, and former Executive Member for Community, Culture and Recreation, Councillor Andrew Gibson, who oversaw the improvements until he stepped down earlier this year, toured the new facilities accompanied by guests from funding partners, officers and local volunteers who have played a key role. They also visited the site where a Maritime Pine tree is to be planted, to honour the investment of all partners in the future of the country park. The tree will be marked with an engraved plaque to commemorate the occasion.
Councillor Perry said: “Lepe Country Park has always been a very popular destination. Our aim was to attract more people to visit and stay longer at the park, by providing new modern facilities that can help turn a visit into a great day out. We need to make Lepe financially self-sustaining, for future generations to enjoy. I’ve brought my granddaughter along today, as it’s such a great place for young people to explore.”
Councillor Gibson said: “The new facilities are already proving popular with crowds of beach visitors who are using the new facilities while enjoying the great outdoors.
“I would like to thank the Enterprise M3 LEP and New Forest District Council, for their financial support, as well as the New Forest National Park Authority.”
The Enterprise M3 Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) contributed £880,000 to the transformation of the park. Jordan Tame from the LEP also attended. He said: “We were delighted to invest in this project which will make a significant contribution to our aims to promote the Enterprise M3 area as a region with an enviable natural environment and an economy focusing on clean growth.”
Councillor Diane Andrews from New Forest District Council, which contributed £50,000 to the scheme, attended with Health and Partnerships Manager Jamie Burton.
Councillor Andrews said: "The Lookout restaurant is a jewel in the crown of the invigorated Lepe Country Park. It is stylish in design and the view is spectacular. I am delighted that New Forest District Council was able to donate £50,000 to this innovative and much needed refurbishment of the facilities at Lepe. This is a must see, and the sensory garden a delight."
The £2.9 million transformation programme has been designed to make the park more financially self-sustaining in the long term.
The Lookout is a striking new glass-fronted restaurant, raised above the level of the beach, to offer uninterrupted views of the sea, as well as protect against the ravages of coastal weather and any exceptionally high tides.
The new Sensory Cottage Garden, at Lepe Point, was funded mainly by the Friends of Lepe who raised £12,000 themselves and successfully bid for funding to complete the scheme. The garden accessible for disabled people, and provides a rich source of interest for schools and community organisations, with features including a bug hotel, a pond and water feature, bog garden, a wildflower garden and a pagoda for climbing plants – all built and maintained by the hard-working volunteer group.
Former Chair of the Friends of Lepe, Stuart Moralee, said: “The Friends of Lepe is a dedicated band of volunteers, who have continued to support the Park throughout this exciting transformation. There’s always a lot going on in the background, and we enjoy the work – voluntary work is very satisfying, it’s a great social activity with real camaraderie. We are all passionate about Lepe, and enjoy working together here for the good of everyone who uses the park.”
There have also been exciting additions to the playground, including a snake balance beam and ‘track rider’ where children can hold on to the beam to glide through the air. For younger adventurers, forest hideaways provide climbing and hiding places.These attractions have been brought together by improved paths, parking and toilet facilities, with a particular focus on improving access for people with disabilities.