No plans to close almost fifty-year-old playground after parents concerns

By Grainne Cuffe, local democracy reporter

Lewisham Council said it has “no plans” to close adventure playgrounds in the borough after concerned parents launched a petition to protect one. 

As part of Lewisham’s £40 million in cuts planned for the next three years, £100,000 is set to come from its Youth First services, a community benefit society that emerged from the youth services.  

The cut is specifically related to money the council gives Youth First for buildings.  

Locals parents, whose children use The Dumps in Bellingham, became concerned that the council “will most likely put these cuts into effect by closing all the adventure playgrounds run by Youth First Services in Lewisham”.   

The Dumps Adventure Playground was built in 1973 to make use of land that had previously been derelict and used as a dump.

A petition the parents launched to keep it open has received more than 1,300 signatures. 

They say The Dumps plays a huge part in the community.  

According to the petition: “Many local parents volunteer here, and there is an excellent relationship between The Dumps and other youth communities, bringing children from different backgrounds together, and promoting relationships between them.  

“By closing these services, Lewisham will be removing centres that are aimed at keeping Lewisham’s children in a safe environment where an emphasis is placed on their physical, emotional and mental well-being.  

“We are in an unprecedented period in our history where our children have had to adjust to losing access to their education and support structures.  

“By removing these services, many children will lose yet another support structure from their lives.  

“The Dumps adventure playground is used by many children with additional needs, and unlike many other services, they are able to access the playgrounds and specialist staff until the age of 25.” 

Parents say the playground is also a safe space for many looked after children, who are provided with meals during holidays and a safe place to be in.  

But the council has somewhat eased residents’ concerns about the future of the playgrounds.  

The cabinet member for children’s services and school performance Cllr Chris Barnham told the local democracy service: “We have no plans to close adventure playgrounds. 

“We understand the importance of ensuring young people have access to the right youth services – this includes universal services that anyone can enjoy, and targeted services for our most vulnerable young people.  

“Youth First has managed our youth provision since 2016. This has included sessions at our five youth clubs and five adventure playgrounds.  

The Dumps in Bellingham

“This contract was recently renewed, with some funding set aside to fund some in-house provision and other youth work providers in the borough, including some additional targeted work with vulnerable children.  

“The new arrangement agreed with Youth First is for universal sessions to run from the five youth clubs.  

“We are also working with them to agree an additional contract to ensure provision at the adventure playgrounds can continue and reopen more fully when they’re able to under Covid-19 regulations.  

“This is because we need to consider their long-term future.  The wooden structures that form the adventure playgrounds are old and at risk of becoming unsafe; most have anticipated lifespans of another one to three years.  

“We plan to spend the next 12 months working with residents to produce a play strategy for our borough that makes sure our children and young people have fair access to play areas and equipment, while acknowledging the massive financial pressures the Council is under.  

“This could involve considering other management and funding models for the adventure playgrounds to make them sustainable and safe in the longer term, and we look forward to sharing details about how people can help to shape the play strategy over the course of the year.” 

Parents Nikki Murphy, Susan Wardlow, Faye Wickendon, Terri James-Guest, and Danni Rekert said they were “incredibly happy” to hear the council’s response.  

But they said they still have some concerns that in future playgrounds will be at risk because of funding cuts.  

They said: “The children in this community have an amazing relationship with the Youth First staff, where they are in an environment where they feel safe.  

“We need this to continue for the new play strategy. We would like to thank Councillor Alan Hall for his support during the campaign and everyone that signed the petition.  

“They played an integral role in helping to reverse the council’s decision to close the playgrounds.” 

Bellingham Councillor Alan Hall (pictured above with staff) said he was pleased the council had no plans to close the Dumps.  

He said: “I am delighted that The Dumps and Home Park Adventure Playgrounds are safe from closure.

“Look out for a consultation on a future play strategy soon. Thank you to all the great campaigners.” 

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