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 Clementine Wallop who is campaigning for better playgrounds in the Hammersmith & Fulham areas of London.
On her Instagram page This Used to be my Playground she shares the dismal state of her children’s local playgrounds and writes about what’s needed to improve the situation.
Please introduce yourself…
My name is Clementine Wallop. I am a mother of two living in Hammersmith, near Ravenscourt Park. I have a six year old and a three year old. I work in business intelligence.
How would you describe the playgrounds in your area?
Old and sad. I am 40 in a couple of months, and I believe I share a birth year with some of Hammersmith’s playgrounds. I have friends my age who played as toddlers on the same kit my children play on now.
It is not simply a matter of equipment being run down but also maintenance being poor. There are screws sticking out of wood-framed fences, nettles growing under slides, a lot of ripped up flooring, cigarette butts under climbing frames and so on. Often equipment that is broken is removed and not replaced, so we have a lot of dead space.
On Shepherd’s Bush Green, drug dealers sell next to the playground, so that’s a rare brilliant playground design wise, but an unsafe place to play.
How do you feel about them?
The general sense I have is that LBHF has not put much thought into play in recent years, which is frustrating when the stated objectives of the council include incentivising young families to stay in the borough, improving the mental and physical wellbeing of children, and making LBHF a great place to live. Playgrounds should be the very obvious beneficiary of those aims — right at the centre of the Venn diagram. Our children were also subjected to the most stringent rules around use of outdoor space in London during the first Covid lockdown, and it would be great to see the council trying to make up for that.
I started thinking more about the cost to the community of shoddy playgrounds when I realised I was going on an almost weekly basis to North Kensington, where I used to live and which has brilliant playgrounds. RBKC really cares about play, and as a result it gets a lot of playground tourists like me. And when I go over there to play, I spend money with independent retailers. I might buy a coffee, a cake, a magazine etc. So there’s an economic case here too, that Hammersmith is losing money and missing out on footfall because of poor play provision.
We have two playgrounds, one at Upper Mall Open Space and the other at Rowberry Mead, which are in such beautiful locations right on the river. They offer an enormous opportunity for spectacular play spaces that would go down so well with tourists on the river walk and bring more people into the area, but they both feel badly neglected. Lots of dead space and worn out equipment.
On a bad day, I regret moving to the borough and wish I lived somewhere like RBKC or Hackney, where the playgrounds reflect a lot of council care and attention.
What are you doing to try and improve the playgrounds in your area?
I am working with the superb team at London Play to make some noise about how things are in LBHF. I spend a lot of time sending emails to the Parks department when I see especially egregious maintenance problems. I have engaged with my local councillors and the full council. I spend a lot of time taking photos and posting them to my Instagram @thisusedtobemyplayground. It makes me angry to see the council talking about all its hard work on green spaces and the importance of the parks on its own IG account, meanwhile totally ignoring me and my evidence of repairs that badly need doing.
I also speak to other parents about how they feel, and ask for their thoughts on any especially good or bad local playgrounds so I can go and visit. Parents so often feel that the needs of their children are overlooked by councils, but play provision is political. It will certainly influence my vote next time around.
Share your views in our survey! As part of our campaign to raise awareness around the condition of LBHF’s playgrounds, we want to tell the council what play provision is like for your families.
We will present the results to the council in the hope they urgently prioritise funding for playground maintenance and refurbishment where it is most needed. These results will show them if they are providing local children with safe, clean and engaging play spaces.
We are especially keen to hear from families with children whose accessibility needs are not met by current play provision.
What response have you had so far and how do you feel about it?
The council acknowledges the playgrounds need work. This is good: it’s an open door and an admission that things aren’t perfect. It’s more than others in similarly play poor boroughs have had.
However, the consistent line I get from council is that Tory cuts are to blame for our bad playgrounds because Hammersmith is under Labour. As parents in Hackney will immediately point out, it doesn’t have to be this way. It’s frustrating seeing what the council will find money for while the playgrounds are in such a state.
Other parents are hugely supportive, but as others will know well, it’s hard to find time for children, work and then for something like this. The reason young families’ voices are often not heard in local decision making is that we’re simply too busy or too exhausted to get involved as much as we’d like. I have been really lucky in the advice I have had from former councillors and our park Friends group.
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What would be your ideal outcome? What is your dream playground?
I will be really happy if the council engages with the local community when it comes time to refurbish the playgrounds in Ravenscourt Park. If—big if—money comes through, this is supposed to happen starting next year. The park is home to a Montessori and is bordered by three schools and another nursery — there are so many young children on the doorstep who will be full of amazing ideas for how their play spaces could look. So I’d like to see LBHF putting those schools at the heart of their plans for Ravenscourt Park, rather than just ticking some boxes on an order form. Duke’s Meadows in Chiswick is a testament to the power of children’s imaginations when it comes to playground design.
I would really love one day for Upper Mall Open Space to realise its potential. It’s in the most glorious place, tucked in by a huge willow tree, the Black Lion pub and the lovely Elder Press Cafe. When we are in there, climbing on the clapped out old pirate ship, we often play a game of “what would we put in here if we could fix it.”
Mainly, though, I hope that I can gradually help to turn the dial so the council puts play higher up its list of priorities. That sounds like a loose concept, but it will have a huge impact across the borough, and what makes a difference in early years makes a difference lifelong.
Read part 2 of this series, in which we spoke with the campaign group Poor Play Newham about the crappy state of their play areas and how they are trying to improve things.
Are you or is someone you know campaigning for better playgrounds in London? Send us a message on our Instagram and let us know.