RAY Park in Woodford Bridge has undergone a radical transformation in recent months with the opening of a new visitors' centre and an outdoor gym at the end of last year.

Almost four months down the line, reporter CLAIRE HACK finds out more about the park and what its users think of the changes.

The James Leal Visitors' Centre opened to a mixed reception in December, with some residents criticising its design.

They expressed disappointment over the final outcome, describing the building as an “eyesore”.

Replacing the historic Ray Lodge House, which burned down five years ago, the visitors' centre suffered a number of setbacks and opened nearly five months late and about £250,000 over budget.

And now that it is open, some park users are still critical of the centre, which was built in memory of former Bridge ward councillor James Leal, who died in 2006 aged just 30.

Rob Grafton, 43, of Bancroft Avenue, Buckhurst Hill, regularly walks his dog in the park and described the centre as a “monstrosity”.

He said: “It's a nice park and a nice place to walk the dog but the visitors' centre is horrendous.

“It looks like a prison.”

But many park users have embraced the changes, welcoming the addition of the “AdiZone” outdoor gym.

Richard Gordon, 26, of Highfield Road, Woodford Bridge, often visits the park with his young daughter.

He said: “I'm well impressed with it. I've lived in Woodford all my life and this is totally different to what it used to be like. My little girl really likes it.

“I'm also impressed with the gym equipment as I'm a personal trainer.”

Mum-of-twins Kelly Rodrigues, 38, of Prospect Road, Woodford, also praised the park for being accessible to both children and adults.

She said: “I think it's great – it's really handy for the kids and adults can use the cafe.

“I'm really pleased with the improvements – it was well needed in this area.”

Grandmother Electra Costi, 59, of Brackley Square, Woodford, visiting the park with her young grandson, added it was useful to have toilet facilities nearby.

She said: “It's brilliant – you've got a place for the kids to go to the toilet, and if it's cold, you can go into the cafe.

“It's fantastic – we come here a lot.”

Laura Tywanj, 60, of Snakes Lane, Woodford Green, agreed, saying: “I think it's really, really good.

“It was really needed in the area as there's nothing else around here.”

And Mark O'Neill, 47, of Highfield Road, Woodford Bridge, who was visiting the James Leal Centre for the first time with his family, said he was impressed with the facility.

He said: “We just noticed the cafe and it's lovely. We would definitely come back.

“It's brilliant – the more they do around here, the better.”

Touted as the “greenest building in the borough” the centre's opening hours are set to extend over the summer and it is also a base for the borough's nature conservation rangers.