Parks have been a saviour for many of us over the last year.

When the toughest coronavirus lockdown restrictions were in place, outdoor spaces were one of the only places we could go.

And in recent months as restrictions were eased even more, parks became social hubs - replacing the pub, a restaurant, our gardens and our homes.

Nowhere in Greater Manchester saw the effect of this quite like Platt Fields Park.

People enjoying the sunny weather on the hill at Platt Fields

Set in the heart of Fallowfield in south Manchester, it is surrounded by thousands of students.

The park's visitors are a diverse mix between them and the long-term Fallowfield residents, as well as locals from neighbouring Moss Side and Rusholme.

Stretching 170 acres, it has a lake, a Shakespearean garden, a play area, a 5-a-side football pitch, tennis courts, an 'eco-garden' and is home to historic Platt Hall.

It is one of the most-visited and most-enjoyed green spaces in Manchester - but has been at the centre of controversy during Covid restrictions.

Platt Fields

At the end of February, as the region enjoyed unseasonably warm weather, 'hundreds' of people gathered on 'The Hill' to socialise - at a time when socialising with only your own household was allowed.

"It was absolutely packed. I just think it's disgusting. We are supposed to only be going out for exercise", one local resident told the M.E.N at the time.

"I had to avoid going past the lake today because there were so many people you couldn't even get through."

A large crowd gathered on the hill at the park

There were similar scenes on St Patrick's Day then again at the end of March when the region was hit with more sunny weather.

On both occasions, hundreds of people descended on the park to drink alcohol despite warnings from police about large gatherings.

Local residents who live in houses that back onto the park described how people urinated up their garden fences and played loud music until the early hours of the morning.

"They have no shame as when approached they just laugh or give verbal abuse and if they see you looking out at them they look up and wave", one resident said of the crowd.

AJ Tracey arrives at Platt Fields Park

Just a couple of weeks ago, in perhaps the most random thing to happen in Platt Fields in recent months, rapper AJ Tracey announced on social media that he'd be performing a gig there.

Huge numbers descended on the area, with a large police presence in place.

A £10,000 fixed penalty notice was issued to the organiser for breaching coronavirus legislation.

In 'non-Covid' times, these kind of activities in the park may not have seemed so unnerving.

But one issue in the park appears to have escalated - the litter.

Litter left behind in the park after 'hundreds' gathered there last month

After each gathering held at Platt Fields in recent months, and after each sunny day, mounds of litter, hundreds of empty glass bottles, cans and empty alcohol boxes have been left strewn across the grass.

In a park so popular with students, who may not have access to gardens, it's easy to pin the blame on them.

But Niamh Webb, a chemistry student at the University of Manchester, is among those leading the fight to clean up the park.

Frustrated by all of the litter left behind, the 20-year-old organised a litter pick, with the help of the Moss Side Eco Squad, after mounds of rubbish were left behind in March.

Niamh Webb and her housemates litter picking on Platt Fields Park

"As a student myself I felt like I was responsible in a way even though I wasn't a part of it", she told the M.E.N .

"There's children who go to the park and there's wildlife in the park, so I organised the litter pick with my housemates as they thought it was awful too."

Niamh posted about the litter pick on Facebook and was delighted with the response.

"There were about 20 people who came, lots of different people, elderly people, people with children and some local councillors", she added.

Bin bags full of rubbish after a litter pick at the park

"It was just really nice to see everyone coming together."

Of the litter problem, Niamh added: "I think half of it is people need to be responsible for their own litter but I just don't know how that can happen."

Martin Cross, who studies filmmaking at the Manchester School of Arts, said he too wanted to help clean up to show that not every student is part of the problem.

The 22-year-old said: "I am a student, which is mostly the reason why I wanted to help.

"I walked through the park and saw everyone on the hill and how busy it was, then the next day I saw some live streams of the rubbish that had been left behind.

Martin Cross organised a litter pick on Platt Fields

"Some of the streams were talking about students, but it's a minority of students that are doing that.

"So the reason I went straight there to help was because I wanted to show that it is not every student and the majority of students in Fallowfield are against it.

"Everyone needs to contribute to the change.

"Not all students are going out there and making a mess and leaving their stuff. It's not exclusively a student problem either."

Martin said around 40 people came out to help litter pick across two days in March.

They managed to clean up the hill in about two hours.

Bottles and gas cannisters were left behind

"Lots of students were vocal about what we had done afterwards because they don't want to get called irresponsible", he said.

"Certain people just don't care about the parks or being clean but that's nothing to do with being a student.

"Doing litter picks is just a plaster on the stab wound. It's not going to fix the problem if we keep cleaning up after people.

"I think we just need to make it as easy as possible for people to clean up their own mess."

People enjoy the sun in the park

Last month, bosses at the University of Manchester confirmed that ‘several’ students were fined after the gathering held at the park on February 27.

It is not clear under what powers the students were fined, or how much - but the university said breaching national Covid regulations may result in ‘sanctions – including fines’.

A spokesperson for the university said: “We understand these are extremely challenging times – especially for our students – and the health and wellbeing of all our students, staff and the wider public is of the utmost importance to the University.

“We have a duty of care to act on reports of our students breaching national COVID regulations.

Police patrolling the park

“This may result in sanctions – including fines – for a small minority of them."

Fallowfield councillor Jade Doswell said she has been against the idea of enforcement.

She echoes the thoughts of Niamh and Martin, that it needs to be easier for people to get rid of their rubbish.

"It's a bit of a difficult one because there is the perception that it's all students", Coun Doswell told the M.E.N .

"We represent both students that live in the ward and the long-term residents.

"I've been against the idea of enforcement and the idea of stopping people from using the hill as it's been a really, really difficult year especially for students.

New portaloos were installed in the park last month

"Obviously when the restrictions were tougher we were keen to get police involved to stop people breaking those rules but now the rules have eased off a bit it's important to get people using the park."

New portaloos were installed in the park in March to stop people from urinating in the public space.

Coun Doswell said she, alongside her fellow Fallowfield councillors, has been talking to the council about keeping them there permanently.

"All three of us councillors have been asking about getting more bins", she added.

"It's about making it easier for people to dispose of their rubbish."

What Manchester City Council said

"Throughout the last 12 months the Team responsible for parks have focused on the safety of visitors, volunteers, and colleagues as a top priority.

"This has meant finding new ways to operate, whilst working with reduced numbers of colleagues in the workplace.

"Parks in Manchester have seen an uplift in usage of around 30 per cent in visitor numbers, which the Team have welcomed, however there have been challenges that have resulted such as increased amounts of litter.

"In terms of bin capacity, there are 57 bins installed in Platt Fields Park and over the last year we have removed more than 12,000 bags of rubbish from the park.

"The bins are emptied every day during Spring and Summer months.

"On average there is enough litter bin capacity within the park for the public to dispose of in their litter (it runs at about 80 per cent capacity).

"Where there are expected peaks then additional resources are put in place to ensure bins are empty in advance and the park is cleared promptly following these incidents.

"However, recent events have resulted in litter and mess being strewn across our Parks which are the selfish behaviour of a minority of visitors, no matter how many bins there are within the park or the number of times they are emptied, it would not address this behaviour.

"Littering is unacceptable and we ask visitors to our Parks to either bin their rubbish or bag it up and take it home with them.

"During recent events, the volume levels of litter could not have been addressed by even significant increases in bin capacity. We therefore provided temporary container bins, skips and container vehicles to deal with what had been left behind.

"We also collaborated with volunteers to hand out bin liners to place their litter in, to be collected by our Ground Maintenance Teams.

"There have been several meetings in collaboration with GMP, Neighbourhood Teams and University's working together to see how large gatherings can be addressed by communication and partnership."