I’ve had a growing sense that my last few posts have been a bit serious, so now for a bit of Good News.
Tetbury has a new, improved Play Area for children that should last for a generation. We and many others had long thought that the previous equipment (installed about 25 years ago) was looking shabby and tired. Worse, the area was at one end of the expansive Recreation Ground: being mainly used for sports pitches, this is a pretty barren, open space. The old play area had no path to reach it, making it almost inaccessible in winter months as the ground became boggy or snowy, and there wasn’t much there to inspire the youngsters.
About 20 months ago, a volunteer group of local parents – including my fantastically lovely wife – decided to do something. One is a local councillor and was able to muster some support from local bodies. But most of the rest of the work has been done completely in their own time: fund-raising, public consultations and market research, negotiating with the sports clubs who use the fields, filling in grant forms for any number of possible sources of funds, project specifications, selecting equipment, appointing the landscape architect, overseeing the actual installation of the agreed equipment, more discussion and negotiation with local councils and committees…
I won’t lie: however noble and worth the cause, at times this felt like a Sisyphean labour. During the last 20 months Rachel has started a new job on top of taking this on. The other parents have their own responsibilities, and at times it did seem like they were trying to do something controversial. We would read about billions going down the drain in banks all over the world, but were still struggling to get a decent play area for the kids in our town.
The project encountered pretty fierce initial resistance from nearby residents. Now I really can understand the issues, but their apparent contempt for the so-called oiks was depressing. Their arguments were mainly something like “don’t build a new play area, it will only attract more children, who will just smash and break and bash everything, swear and fornicate, and leave rubbish everywhere”.
The local sports clubs who are the main (organised) users of The Rec’ wanted to keep the grassy public areas for their training games. But, we tried to suggest, however brilliant your club is at getting some kids running about, it’s only once or twice a week for about half the year. The play area will be for everyone, all of the time.
Lesser people (including me) would have given up under the continued chipping-away of resistance, bureaucracy, form-filling, and an unending barrage of emails to be tackled late in the evenings. It’s a good job that Rachel and the rest of the team aren’t lesser people. They secured virtually £50,000 from The National Lottery, and around another £15,000 from local charities, community groups and individual donations.
There was a Launch Party last weekend attended by over 100 people, and since there’s been a palpable difference. We live on a street close to The Recreation Ground, and there has been an obvious increase in the number of families walking past our door on the way to the play park. We were up there this afternoon and it was packed with children of all ages and their families together. Parents can sit at the new picnic tables and chat or read the paper while watching their offspring race about over the newly-formed ‘humps and bumps’. It’s clean and easy to get buggies and pushchairs over to the Play Area as there’s now a permanent path in place.
We’ve seen people enjoying themselves there whom I’ve never seen at the old play area, despite having lived here almost 8 years. It now feels like a nice place to go. Children will start asking their parents if they can go to The Rec, and their parents will be happy to take them. The basket swing is a genuinely terrific piece of kit that can be enjoyed (or endured) by kids from 5-15 (or even older!). There are some really lovely and inventive pieces, and Tetbury’s Dolphins make repeated appearances, most notably in the brilliant sculptures by Andy O’Neill.
I don’t think we yet understand how this might affect Tetbury in a positive way. It seems to lift people’s moods and provide a focus. It took persistence and determination, as they were guided by nothing much more than they wanted to make a difference, to create something for the whole of our community, and especially for the children. I’m extraordinarily proud of what Rachel and the team have achieved.