Charlie Bull  

Why can’t we just all play nicely together?

I was out for a walk with my toddler daughter in her pushchair. It was a fairly warm and sunny day. We checked the roads were clear of cars to cross when we spotted a play park. I was so amazed I hadn’t realised it was there before, having lived in the area for almost a year, we wandered down the road adjacent to ours, drawn in by its bright colours. When we reached the park it had a low fence and hedges surrounding it. It was so much more accessible than the other park in the area, (which is in the middle of a very big and uneven field), not very easy terrain for a pushchair or a small toddler to walk. This was also far closer, only being round the corner from our house. I found the gate… It was locked. I checked I wasn’t going crazy and yes, locked, by a big black contraption. I was puzzled. Maybe it was the time of year, maybe it hadn’t been opened again for Spring? It seemed odd to me, why would they need to lock it with this fancy locking system? I wandered around to the next gate and it too was locked. Then I noticed the sign… ‘This park is privately funded by ‘whatever the name was’ estate.’ This was the middle of the day, during the half term and there was not one single child in sight. I had to turn around and walk away with my toddler, who was wondering why she had just been teased with the prospect of playing in the park. I felt like an awful mum.

These are my problems with these types of parks.

Play parks are to encourage children to go outside and play with other children, to socialise.

There were no children in this particular park. The sole purpose of a park is for it to be played in, for there to be laughter  resonating from it’s vicinity and instead, there we were looking over the fence at this empty park which looked more like an art installation.

One day I will have to explain to my daughter why she can’t play in the park that is just round the corner. “It’s because only the children who live in the bigger houses on that road are allowed to play in there.” “Why?”

This causes an ‘us and them’ effect and it took me back to my childhood, to an experience that really shook my confidence and self-esteem.

My friend stayed with relatives on a council estate close to where I grew up. I used to go down the alleyway to see her after school, to play and we would often go to the local park. I was aged 8 I think. One day, as usual, we were playing when other children started telling me I wasn’t welcome in the park or the area and I had to leave. When I told them I wouldn’t, because I was with my friend, they began throwing quite big rocks at me, (which bruised my legs), pushing me and one of the children put her hands round my throat and squeezed very hard. We didn’t understand why. Confused and very upset, I managed to get away and ran back up the alley home. My Mum was very angry and had a word with some adults from the estate and then told me I couldn’t play there anymore. The children on the estate had decided that because I was not local enough, I was different, to the point where they were attacking me. It made me notice a difference that I never before would have seen between us at such a young age. That they were from a council estate and I wasn’t. This is not what I feel should be encouraged. I don’t want my daughter to think that she is not good enough, or not an equal. This is what I feel these private parks do.

I can understand that the houses have put funding towards the park, and that they want it to be looked after. The lock could be put on after 5pm to make sure louts don’t go in there and vandalise it. The children in the area have access to a park opposite their homes which is amazing! They can play in there anytime they like and it’s all thanks to the generosity of those who funded it. I just can’t get behind the idea that it’s only there for those particular children and not the ones who live around the corner who would be as equally delighted to pay that park visits.

I don’t want my daughter to experience going out to play with friends in that road, only to be shunned when they go to the park. In this day and age we should be encouraging children to get outside to play, rather than staying in. Supporting them to socialise with children no matter where they live or what their background is. Teaching them to be kind and supportive of one another.

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