London playgrounds range from engaging, creative spaces to unsafe, dirty, broken down wastelands. Some mums fed up with the state of their local play areas are taking action to create change. Here we speak with Anneke, a member of the campaign group Poor Play Newham and mum of two young children.
Please introduce yourselves…
Poor Play Newham was set up by a group of parents that live in East Ham, Newham. Initially founded by Rachel and Melany (both mums of two young kids), we recruited other mothers in the area to join the committee. The impetus to start this group came when a piece of play equipment was removed from our local park, Brampton Park in E6 which is opposite a 4-form entry primary school with over 900 students.
As parents, we were asked to apply for community funding to replace the equipment that was removed without consultation. The group’s values were founded on the basis that as local parents we felt frustrated at the lack of care, repair and the overall investment in play spaces in our local area. In the early days of establishing the group, we quite quickly realised that this was a Newham wide problem, with multiple people reaching out to us with damning reports of their local play spaces.
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How would you describe the playgrounds in your area?
We actually ran a survey to gather thoughts from local parents about Newham playgrounds. Their responses tell it better than I can:
“They’re horribly neglected. The council is not repairing damaged play equipment and does not seem to care about Newham’s children having access to safe, fun spaces.”
“I can see that investment was made at some point in the past as I do feel there are an abundance of play spaces in my area – the problem is that they haven’t been maintained, they have become uncared for, dreary and often not fit for purpose.”
“I’d love to see play prioritised by the council and an investment in playground equipment would be a wonderful start. So many kids in Newham do not have access to outside space and our parks are vital for these kids in particular, to thrive. The state of Central Park, in particular, really saddens me as we spent the first 5 years of my child’s life there, visiting 3-4 times a week. It was so important to me and my mental health. A place to be outside, rain or shine, make new friends with local parents, and explore with my young child. It was a life saver.”
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How do you feel about them?
To be honest, going to our local playgrounds is quite depressing. As all parents will know, so often you just need to get your kids out of the house for an hour or so to give them some exercise and let them work off some steam. Due to the poor state of our playgrounds, it’s difficult not to feel trapped in your own home at times- reluctant to take your kids out to a local playspace which you feel is demoralising and sometimes downright unsafe. Playgrounds are where communities begin forming. Parents chat to each other as their kids play, see the same families regularly, and over time start to build those connections which add so much value to people’s lives. But in Newham this is happening so much less than it used to, which is going to have huge implications for community cohesion in the future.
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What are you doing to try and improve the playgrounds in your area?
Since forming Poor Play Newham, we have set up an Instagram page to highlight poor provision in Newham which has quickly gained a large number of engaged followers. We have had an article published in the local newspaper- their Instagram post about the article was the most-liked post from their last 6 months of posting, proving the depth of local feeling about this issue.
We created a survey to gather local opinion about playspaces and in the space of a week have had over 250 replies. We are also forming a group of park representatives who will feed back to us about what is happening in every park in Newham.
We’re really keen that this should be a cross-borough effort, our driving purpose is that we believe great play should be accessible to ALL children. We are also planning to address a full meeting of Newham Council, we feel this is important as the council are currently refusing to deal with the issue in any meaningful way. We want to show them the depth of local feeling and desire for change.
What response have you had so far and how do you feel about it?
Individually, we have been emailing our local councillors and council cabinet members for months. As an example, over the summer I emailed my three ward councillors about water play facilities not being turned on. More than two months later I have had no reply. Others had replies to emails saying that splash pads were on, while they were literally standing at the splash pad which was not in fact turned on! Nothing is improving, and we felt we were constantly being fobbed off, or given misleading information.
We realised we had to come together and try to speak with one voice on behalf of our children to raise awareness of just how unacceptable the situation is. Since we started we’ve been absolutely overwhelmed with support from local parents. They are really keen to get involved, many volunteering to be park representatives, discussing what we need from our local playspaces, letting us know that they are there to help us. We feel that they are 100% behind us to achieve the change we all want to see.
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What would be your ideal outcome? What is your dream playground?
We want a cast iron commitment to a long-term, funded strategy with timelines for park upgrades and changes throughout the borough from Newham Council. We want the mayor and cabinet members held accountable for the success or failure to implement this strategy. We believe that the strategy should be informed by consultation into what residents and their children want from their playspaces. But we also feel that part of the problem is that residents are currently encouraged to apply for small amounts of funding to perhaps get one swing installed- the scale of the problem means this clearly needs to be looked at with a much broader vision and that needs to be acknowledged.
We want waterplay provision to be proactively planned to be operational between Easter- end of summer 2024 (especially given the fiasco of waterplay provision in summer 2023 when out of eleven water play spaces only two were turned on). Many of the respondents to our survey have mentioned water play as being particularly important to them.
In the coming months, we want Labour-run Newham to abide by the promises they made in their 2022 manifesto and carry out an audit of all their parks. We want them to urgently replace all broken/removed items. Childhood is short, early years are crucial. The first eight years of a child’s life can build a foundation for future learning, health and life success. We will accept no more excuses as to why our children should be treated as undeserving of their human right to play.
And ultimately- we just don’t want to have to exist as a group! It shouldn’t take the efforts of busy working parents who are time and sleep deprived to shame a council into providing decent and safe play facilities for the children of their borough.
Be sure to read part 1 of this series – we spoke with a mum campaigning for better playgrounds in Hammersmith and Fulham. Read that HERE.
Are you or is someone you know campaigning for better playgrounds in London? Send us a message on our Instagram and let us know.