Obituary of Peter Wilmers | Regeneration

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My husband, Peter Wilmers, who died at the age of 72, was a pioneer in community greening whose work helped transform Lancashire’s Rossendale Valley and inspired a national movement. A creative environmental worker, he had a rare combination of strategic vision and an ability to get things done.

In 1983 Peter moved as a town planner from Norfolk to Lancashire to run Rossendale Groundwork, a non-profit environmental charity based on local partnerships, supported by the Countryside Commission. Rossendale, a valley in the Pennines with high unemployment and a degraded landscape, was not home to the first Groundwork Trust, but Peter, with energy and political skill, established the Rossendale organization as a model of what Groundwork could achieve.

Work centered on “New landscapes” and “New lives”. For 10 years, Groundwork has been the valley’s third largest employer. The training programs exceeded expectations; local paths and walls have been restored; an abandoned building has become a reception center; and 22,000 trees per year have been planted. Perceptions have changed with the participation of the community. Peter played a major role in getting ministers to support a national deployment of Groundwork. Local MP Sir David Trippier has become a champion of the wider movement and the federation continues to be a national force for regeneration today.

Peter Wilmers at work with Richard Branson in Rawtenstall, Lancashire

Sporting his green suits and red shoe laces, Peter has attracted the big and the good while launching many innovative programs. He led Groundwork’s expansion in eastern Lancashire and Bury in the 1990s. In Blackburn, an abandoned canal building has become a landmark center; a £ 5million grant transformed wasteland around an underprivileged area. Youth Works programs targeted youth crime.

He set up the UK’s first business environmental audit program, enabling small businesses to reduce their environmental impact and costs. This has led to work in Hungary and Poland and to conference presentations across Europe, in Beijing and New York. In 2003, Peter was leading four Groundwork organizations.

At the North West Development Agency, where he moved in 2005, he championed “green infrastructure”, proposing to invest in functional green spaces alongside other infrastructure programs. He helped Natural England reveal and celebrate the economic benefits of nature. This approach, pioneered by Natural Economy Northwest, is now established.

Peter retired in 2010. For 15 years he was governor of Cribden House School in Rawtenstall. He was an active member of the board of directors of Rossendale Leisure Trust and the Whitaker Museum until his death.

Born in Clapham, south London, Peter was the son of June (née Mecredy), who taught English as a Foreign Language, and John Wilmers, a QC. He attended and was influenced by Leighton Park, a Quaker school in Reading, from which he studied social sciences at the University of Leicester and postgraduate planning at the University of Nottingham. Talented and versatile, Peter sparkled. His legacy continues in the landscape and people have changed and inspired by his work.

Peter was first married to Sue Biffen, then to Kath Long, with whom he had two sons, Tom and Harry. Both marriages ended in divorce and Harry died before him. Peter and I met in 1987 and got married four years later; he is also survived by Tom, his grandchildren, Hugo and Clara, and June.


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