Young people from Walker perform poem to Robert Burns

Laila Lambert and Leon Wilson with Robert Burns sculpture in Walker Park café.
Laila Lambert and Leon Wilson with Robert Burns sculpture in Walker Park café.

Two young people from Central Walker Church of England Primary School got a unique opportunity of performing their self-penned poems to a world famous poet [well kind of…] at Walker Park in Newcastle.

This Wednesday is an important day in the recent history of Walker Park as it will be the first ‘Burns Night’ in over 40-years, where a renovated sculpture of Scottish poet Robert Burns celebrates the cultural occasion after being reunited with its former home from yesteryear.

​The sculpture was restored back to its former glory as part of the Walker Park renovation programme. Walker Park has recently undergone a £2.5 million redevelopment with National Lottery investment from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and Big Lottery Fund; and investment by Newcastle City Council, Walker Ward Committee and Your Homes Newcastle.

Laila Lambert (aged 9) and Leon Wilson (aged 8) both of Year 4 at Central Walker Church of England Primary School performed their Robert Burns and Walker Park inspired poems to the great man himself, as Walker Park Café is the new home to the original Robert Burns statue. (Both poems are provided in the Notes to Editor)

The café, now operated by YMCA Walker part of YMCA Newcastle, is also hosting a ‘sold out’ Burns Night event this coming Thursday.

The young people took part in the regional poetry competition, as the City Council invited local schools to come up with poems inspired by Walker Park and Robert Burns.

Walker Park is steeped in heritage after serving the local community for the past 125-years. It has been an invaluable recreational space offering residents a popular meeting place, an area for children to play and make friends; and somewhere for families to gather and have fun. In its heyday the Park was a crucial resource for industrial workers to wind down as Walker was heavily populated by shipbuilders and miners.

The original Robert Burns sculpture was erected to commemorate the visit by Robert Burns to Newcastle back in 1787.  The bronze figure took pride of place in Walker Park for over 70-years after being installed in 1901.  It was removed after repeated spates of vandalism but the recent renovation work signalled its welcome return along with a replica copy that sits on a plinth and greets visitors to the Park.

Walker Park relaunched to the public with the ‘Walker Park Festival’ in September 2016, after the nine-month renovation programme that enabled improvements to be made to key park facilities including the park centre, play area, amphitheatre, the re-surfacing of footpaths, and the installation of new street furniture.

Cllr Kim McGuinness, cabinet member for culture and communities at Newcastle City Council, said: “Both statues of poet Robert Burns are continuing to be conversation pieces that have provided the focal point for education projects delivered by neighbouring schools and also the focal points for local cultural gatherings. Neeps and tatties all round!

"Walker Park is a great example of how a park can play so many different roles in the local community. It's used for recreation, exercise and as a meeting place with the cafe providing a great space for a variety of activities. The park is being widely used by families, friends, schools, pet owners, young people and community groups. 

"The impressive renovation work funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and other partners has meant the future of the park is promising for residents and visitors to Walker. The greenspace is something for locals to be proud of, with its rich heritage and beautiful setting being a great asset to the community. 

Miss Amy Reid, Year 4 Teacher and Art Co-Ordinator at Central Walker Church of England Primary School, said:  “The children were really inspired when they learnt about Rabbie Burns and his life. They loved the fact that he had visited Walker and that his statue has now been repositioned within Walker Park. Using Rabbie Burns and Walker Park as a writing stimulus has been fantastic. As well as developing their local history understanding, children have in turn nurtured their skills within creative writing.’’

Ivor Crowther, Head of HLF North East, said: “Today our parks continue to play vital role in our lives – for our wellbeing, a place to spend time together and as a connection to nature and our history. Thanks to National Lottery players, we were delighted to support the restoration of Walker Park and the return of the Robert Burns statue and it’s fantastic to see the inspiration these young people have taken from their shared history.”

If any local schools would like to enter the poetry competition then they still have until Tuesday January 31st to enter.  The poems can be emailed to Katherine Knox, Newcastle Park Ranger, Katherine.Knox@newcastle.gov.uk

Robert Burns poems in full:

“Rabbie Burns”

By Laila Lambert – Year 4 (aged 9)

Rabbie rules this old park,

always watching in the dark.

On a plinth standing high,

people see him passing by.

The soul of Mr Burns still lives on,

he is never ever gone.

He watches children,

and he hears parents say…

‘’We will never forget Rabbie Burns, 

give him the respect that he has earnt.’’

His statue is substantial, made of stone and rusty,

the statue can sometimes get a little bit dusty.

His first statue was a fall,

but the second is without doubt standing tall.

“Mr Burns”

By Leon Wilson – Year 4 (aged 8)

Mr Burns stands on a tall tower.

He may not be here but he is still watching.

Bronzy Burns as I would call him, stands there in a peaceful park.

Beautiful robins represent his soul, watching closely over us all.

Rabbie’s real name is Robert Burns, like a slide you only get so many turns.

Finished in 1888, Rabbie makes Walker Park look great!

The history behind Walker Park’s Robert Burns sculpture

During the 19th century Scottish workers from local shipyards set up a Walker Burns Club, which raised money for a statue of Robert Burns, which was located in Walker Park. 

The statue was sculptured by DW Stephenson and manufactured by Walter MacFarlance & Co.  The statue was unveiled in 1901 by Mr. H. Crawford M.P.  Unfortunately during the 1970’s the statue was vandalised and left without its head or arms. 

Thankfully the statue was restored with help from the North East Federation of Burns Clubs, and was relocated to Heaton Park.  However during the 1980’s the statue suffered further damage and was broken again by an act of vandalism, and was moved into storage.

Part of the Walker Park renovation programme investment allowed for the restoration of the original Robert Burns statue and production of a replica statue, both of which are located in Walker Park.