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Thursday, March 16, 2006

The Playground

A close friend of mine lives on a council estate in one of the many poorer parts of the city.

Within this sprawling concrete jungle there is a children’s playground.

Unlike some areas, the playground here has never, to my knowledge, been vandalised.  The parents have cleared up sweet wrappers and coke cans after their children and the children themselves have seemed to appreciate having somewhere nice to play.  The playground was small and only just adequately equipped, but the people of the community kept it nice and it remained, for years, a friendly, welcoming place to bring children.

At least it was, until recently.

First, council workers turned up one day and erected a high fence all around the playground.  They also put a padlock on the gate.  The playground was locked and unlocked by a council worker, at times according to his whims, and access to the playground became extremely limited.

Some of the parents asked the council why they had done this.  

The council replied, “to cut down on vandalism”.

The parents argued that there had been no vandalism and that they, as a community, could ensure that this would be the case in the future.

The council’s response?  They installed a ‘card entry’ lock on the playground gate and told the tenants that, if they wanted their children to use the playground, they would have to buy a pass, with the entry code on it, as well as their ID, “to prove that they lived in the area”.  The pass would cost £5, which would go towards “the upkeep of this facility”.

The parents were, quite rightly, outraged.  Not only had the council ignored their case that they themselves could manage the playground, but they were now to be charged for entering a place that they themselves had always maintained.  There was also the thorny issue of ID, which the parents saw as a slap in the face for their integrity as responsible members of the community, and many of them thought that this demonstrated the council’s views that their tenants could not be trusted to do anything without being monitored.

So this was really a ridiculous case of ‘Big Brother’ getting out of hand and the tenants being charged for the whole fiasco.

Many parents, including my friend, refused to purchase the ‘pass’.  The playground became little used and tenants who had previously kept an eye on the playground lost interest.

Within a few weeks youths from another area climbed the fence and vandalised the playground.  It now stands in ruins: the ‘safety’ tarmac has been pockmarked; the swings have no seats; the roundabout is broken; and the slide is covered in dog excrement.

This was just one small playground, but its fate tells a story typical of life today in urban Britain – grim, ugly, and totally frustrating.

A sad tale, but true.




posted by summersun70 at 12:31 PM

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