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Tuesday, 21 October 2014

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Park life Add your comments

A POPULAR piece of Whitehaven’s recent past is soon to be consigned to the history books. When the bulldozers move in to tear down The Park this summer, it will represent the end of an era for the thousands who boogied and boozed in the popular club for over 15 years.

Between its grand opening in 1989 and its last hurrah on New Year’s Eve 2005, The Park was the place to be on a Saturday night.

Mark McLaughlin, Chris Pool and Paul Johnston, all popular DJs at The Park for much of its run, raise a glass to their former residency.

“I worked in there from January 1998 until the day it closed,” said Mark, who now DJs at and co-manages North. He has also created a tribute video to The Park online which has attracted over 20,000 hits (http://youtube./nYD6RmgIJY0).

“I started my Park ‘career’ as a glass collector, and within 12 months of working there I’d been sacked three times for not turning up for work because I wanted to go see Judge Jules and Pete Tong DJ at Cream in Liverpool.

“My big break came as I became The Park’s resident DJ in the spring of 1999 and the downstairs dancefloor was mine!

“The best memory I have is of my trademark song; it’s a tune known locally as Up Banana by Afrika Bambaataa, and the good folk of Whitehaven still ask me to play it now. It’s stood the test of time and, 14 years later, it still fills the dancefloor today.

“I can remember playing it at The Park and watching a sea of people flood the dancefloor; all the folks who were enjoying the dance music upstairs would come downstairs and the feeling you would get at more than 300 people bouncing up and down to a song you’ve put on is immense .

“Usually within a minute of my playing the song, the DJs from upstairs would rush downstairs and give me a right earbashing because I’d managed to clear their dancefloor!

“Other memories I have are from watching drunk people fall over, and just as I was wondering if they’d get back up, they emerge with a smile on their face and their drink still intact.

“The Park holds a very treasured place in my heart because it’s where I got my first big break and I’ve since worked all over the world.”

Paul Johnston was DJ at The Park and The Whitehouse, on and off, from 1990 to 2002. “When I first started,” he recalls, “it was open seven nights. In fact my first night there was a Tuesday. I made some great friends and have some great memories of my time in both establishments.

“One of the funniest things I remember was from Christmas Eve in 1990, when I was DJing alongside my good friend, Kevin Thirlwell.

“Kevin had a great idea that at midnight he would abseil from the balcony onto the dancefloor, dressed as Santa and distribute gifts to the revellers.

“Before we opened, the door staff spent ages setting up the rope that ‘Santa’ would slide down. Kevin had even invested in a pair of thick rubber gloves so that the rope wouldn’t burn his hands on the way down.

“When everything was set, the doors were opened and we had great night. It was Christmas and everyone was in the party mood. At midnight, as planned, Santa appeared on the balcony, he waved and threw a few gifts out to the crowd. Then it was time for the main event. Santa started a countdown before he launched himself onto the rope. It was at this point he regretted the rubber gloves, as instead of sliding down, he just hung there from the rope, dangling above the dancefloor. As he hung, his Santa robe opened up and left him with no choice, but to let go of the rope, and he landed on his bottom in the middle of the dancefloor!

“It’s a shame now that Whitehaven no longer has a dedicated nightclub. For those of us that grew up in the 80s and 90s, we were lucky. There was an abundance of great venues, and alcohol was cheap enough that you could afford to go out two or three times a week, if not more.”

Chris Pool was at The Park for its opening night in 1989 as an electrician working on the lights system, and as DJ for its last night in 2005.

“It was the place to be,” says Chris. “The first song ever played there was A Walk in the Park by The Nick Straker Band, and we managed to find it again and it was one of the last songs to be played on the last night.”

Photographer Dave Wilson was invited to take pictures in the venue shortly after its closure.

“This was once the premiere nightspot in Whitehaven,” says Dave. “It was open for around 16 years and saw many changes in music and provided entertainment for tens of thousands of people during this time. 

“I don't exaggerate when I say that this building was part of people’s lives. I know part of what I am today was shaped in this place.

“With so many memories it was quite disturbing to go back one last time. Now stripped and ready for demolition, it is just a shell of a building although things like the lighting rig above the dancefloor were still intact.

“Taking a look now, it’s obvious that a lot of time, thought and money went into this place. It’s a crying shame that it ultimately closed”

For one couple, The Park holds a particularly special memory; it was where Katrina Gray, of Cleator Moor, and Lyndon Sesson, of Frizington, met in September 1997 and they have now been married for 14 years.

“I went to The Park almost every weekend from when I started going out up until it shut,” says Katrina. “I even went to the Thursday ‘indie nights’ and the Friday ‘70s, 80s and 90s nights’ too, in full 70s fancy dress of an Abba-style outfit with flares and painted flowers on my cheeks.

“I celebrated my 18th birthday in The Park and met my now husband there. I have great memories of that place and often my friends and family laugh at me because I always say that when I die, my soul will return to The Park!

“There’s nowhere else in Whitehaven like it and probably never will be.”

IN my own Park-going days – around 1998 to 2002/3 – it was the only place to end your night out in Whitehaven, writes Andrew Clarke.

There were other pubs and even clubs – hard to believe now, I know – but nowhere came to close to what The Park had to offer. The beauty was it seemed that everyone you knew went there every Saturday night.

Having left the last stop-off before The Park – the equally much-missed Whitehouse – you headed for the back bar or the goldfish bowl to find you knew every single person in there; the night out had been planned all week among my friends and would be reviewed all the following week.

For me, The Park will always mean good mates drinking long-forgotten drinks (Metz, Skittles, Two Dogs anyone?) and dancing to long-forgotten music by Eiffel 65 (Blue), Ann Lee (2 Times) and The Vengaboys. Happy days!

Have your say

Went to the Park when it was the swimming baths, very distant memory now! And it is the only place I have ever danced around handbags -that was a scream!

Posted by Jackie on 20 April 2012 at 10:33

I don't drink but still used to go to The Park every weekend, the burgers upstairs we're awsome!!
BRING BACK THE PARK!

(Maybe a bit late to start this campaign)

Posted by Jonny Wethand on 12 April 2012 at 07:19

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