Can you believe it’s been a year since Hat Gardens opened? Time flies! For those who haven’t been down to the town centre lately, you’re in for a surprise. That old car park on Bute Street has been transformed into a lovely little space, and it’s making quite a difference.

The River Lea Project

It all started with the ‘Open Lea’ project back in 2021. Luton Council spent £1.9 million (thanks to special funding), to bring the River Lea back to the surface and create what they call a ‘pocket park’.

They’ve deculverted the river, added some stepped seating, and planted a nice terrace. It’s amazing what a bit of greenery can do for our town centre. And it’s just the start – sounds like there are plans for more of these pocket parks around town.


What’s been happening?

Since Hat Gardens opened last May, it’s been buzzing with activity. There’s been over 30 events in the past year. And there’s something for everyone – morning yoga for the early birds, mini-concerts for music lovers, and even outdoor cinema days. It’s nice to see the space being used so well.

Oh, and did you spot the pink flamingos? They’re back! For us oldies who remember The Arndale in its heyday, it’s a nice throwback.

The impact on town

It’s great to see the town centre buzzing again. Luton Council’s got some good news for us – they say footfall has been on the up. Apparently, we’ve had more people in town for 17 out of 20 weeks since opening. That’s a real turnaround from how things were going before.

Word’s been spreading on social media too – seems like everyone’s got something nice to say about Hat Gardens! It’s heartwarming to see our community embracing this new space. One resident commented, “Hat Gardens are a wonderful addition to Luton. I attended a few events and loved them!”

A brief resident survey also revealed that 77% of respondents felt more positive about the town centre after visiting an event in the park. It’s nice to see people genuinely excited about something new in town.

hat gardens

Recognition and improvements

And it doesn’t end there – Hat Gardens even won an award! In November 2023, Hat Gardens won the ‘Project of the Year’ (under £10m) award at the National Building Construction Awards, recognising Luton-based construction company and project contractor Ryebridge.

The council hasn’t just left it at that, either. They’ve had a local artist paint a flamingo mural on an electric boxe – much nicer to look at now. We’ve also played our part and put up some interesting signs about the park’s history and the local wildlife. It’s quite an interesting read!

What’s next?

Looking ahead, there’s more happening in town. Luton Council are planning to redevelop the old Bute Street Shoppers car park. The plans sound ambitious – new homes, a community area, a food court, and some shops. More exciting things are happening in Luton and it’s doesn’t stop there.

This summer, a bunch of free events in Hat Gardens and Market Hill will take place. There’ll be street performances, workshops, outdoor films, and storytelling for the kids. Might be worth checking out if you’re looking for something to do with the family that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.

hat gardens

Final thoughts

Luton’s really coming into its own lately, and Hat Gardens is a shining example. It’s become a real community hotspot – perfect for lunch breaks, meet-ups with friends, or family outings.

The changes in town are exciting, aren’t they? It feels like the start of something.

If you haven’t visited yet, you’re in for a surprise. Pop down this weekend and see what all the fuss is about. Or find out what’s on at the pocket park here in our what’s on guide.

About the Author
Laura Redmond

Laura is a passionate supporter of the Step Forward Luton campaign and a Place Activation and Marketing Coordinator. Armed with a journalism degree and unwavering love for her university town, she believes there's more to Luton that meets the eye. From charity work to market management, Laura's professional journey has explored every corner of Luton. When she's not busy being a marketing maven, she's lacing up her walking shoes to explore the town's green spaces or unearthing Luton's hidden foodie gems.