A raft of planned improvements have been earmarked for Aberdeen’s North Sea Memorial Gardens as part of a transformational re-design.
The Pound for Piper Memorial Trust has unveiled proposals to revamp the iconic area in Hazlehead Park, which has the famous Piper Alpha monument at its heart.
And the group is now looking to the oil and gas industry to help raise the £500,000 needed to make its vision for the space a reality.
MaryAnn Rae, trustee of Pound for Piper and redesign project lead, said: “The design concept we have commissioned reflects our vision and meets with our Pound for Piper longer-term purpose, to ensure that the monument and gardens are maintained to a high standard for years to come and remain a special place for solace, comfort and contemplation.”
A raft of improvements
Under the current proposals, a larger area would be created around the famous monument, allowing for a 360-degree view and improved access.
It would also mean any maintenance crews or machinery could be brought in and out
Current seating would be upgraded, and more than a dozen benches would be added, as well as information boards detailing the history and legacy of Piper Alpha and the work of the trust.
The sustainability of the space would be improved, with a greater diversity of garden roses that will attract wildlife and insects.
There would also be increased scope for the wider community to benefit from the garden.
Steve Rae, chairman of Pound for Piper and a survivor of the disaster, says the plans have been in the pipeline for around three years.
“We’ve had to really think about the change, because people often aren’t comfortable with alteration. Some people won’t want the gardens to change, but we’re going to take them with us. We’re looking at repurposing some of the roses that are in good health and getting volunteers in to do the planting. We want to engage with the community as much as we can.”
He added: “This redesign will deliver a place that would be befitting to not only those who lost their lives on Piper Alpha but also all that have paid the ultimate sacrifice whilst working in the North Sea. A place to remember and contemplate and a place to ensure the younger and future generations are reminded of what’s gone before and the harsh price paid for the lessons learned.”
The legacy of Piper Alpha
In 1988 the oil and gas industry was shaken to its core when the Piper Alpha platform, about 120 miles north-east of Aberdeen, exploded, leading to the deaths of 167 men.
It remains the world’s worst ever offshore disaster.
Originally designed as an extension of the Queen Mother rose gardens, landscaping had already begun when the explosion happened.
The space then became what is now known as the North Sea Memorial Gardens, where a ceremony is still held every year on July 6 to mark the tragedy.
At its centre is the iconic Piper Alpha monument, made by sculptor Sue Jane Taylor and featuring three statues of North Sea workers.
Around the memorial, which was unveiled on the third anniversary of Piper Alpha, are the names of all those who perished in the disaster.
Asking the industry to dig deep
After almost 34 years, Piper Alpha remains at the forefront of many peoples minds, and Mr Rae is confident the oil and gas industry will step up to help fund the re-design of the gardens.
He said: “I think we’ll be well supported, though we have to be cognisant that we’re just coming out of a downturn and things are picking up. I’d like to think we’ve hit the market at the right time and people and companies can give generously for something that’s going to be here for decades to come.”
Deirdre Michie, chief executive of Offshore Energies UK, said: “I am delighted that we are supporting this significant project to redesign the memorial gardens.
“I think it’s so important that they continue to be an iconic place for us all, that will help to ensure that we never forget those who lost their lives working in our sector and reminds us all how safe operations has to be at the heart of our evolving industry.
“I hope that the industry will give generously so that we can continue to have a space and place that we can all be proud of.”
A poignant place for the oil and gas industry
Current timelines have first ground on the revamp being broken towards the end of the summer, after the annual memorial service has taken place.
From there the project is expected to take around seven months to complete, meaning it will be ready for the 35th anniversary of Piper Alpha in 2023.
Mr Rae said: “People come here year on year, and some have been coming for 33 years. When I go offshore to do my visits, it is still an important place we talk about as an offshore community, and that will always be the case.”
He added: “We need to bring a mix of people into the gardens. Right now it gets a lot of footfall, but we want generations to visit who don’t necessarily know what has gone before them, and it’s a good story to motivate people to do the right thing, in whatever line of work they do.”