Even in these tough times for play, some local groups still manage to raise funds for new play equipment or short-term projects. Finding the resources to maintain and replace them, and attracting revenue funding to employ playworkers, remains challenging, often leaving great playgrounds locked up for significant amounts of time.
Residents in the West London Borough of Hounslow came up with a clever concept of making their park and play area sustainable through income generation and imaginative ways of engaging the community.
Long standing complaints about the old play area in the park (“it was not much fun”; “there was always broken glass on the ground and not enough seating for the mums to chat”), negative publicity about some local housing estates, and a proposal to sell off football pitches in the park brought the local community together. They formed a Friends group, now known as Dukes Meadows Trust (DMT), to reverse the decline, improve the area and protect it for future generations.
With a major BIG Lottery Fund grant, DMT turned neglected parts of the 150 acre space into an inspiring, accessible, award-winning, unique open space. A semi derelict Pavilion, once ‘a magnet for arson-minded teenagers’, now provides workspace for artists. Alongside the weekend Farmers Market, it generates vital revenue for DMT to sustain the improvements of this amazing outdoor space and adventurous play area.
The transformation was made possible by engaging volunteers from across the community who help maintain the community garden and orchard, plant trees, bluebell bulbs and shrubs; care for the hedges; repaint benches; pick litter and remove graffiti. Involving children right from the start was anything but a ‘tick-box exercise’: it created local identity and ownership.
Kathleen Healy, a DMT founder member, understood the need to develop sustainability from the start: “the playgrounds are hugely valuable and something we are proud to have created, but recognising that they are, in a financial sense, liabilities was key to understanding the need to create enterprises to generate revenue to pay for their maintenance and replacement over time”.
Now, people from across Hounslow and neighbouring boroughs give the new play area a universal thumbs up: “it is completely brilliant and the best playground in Chiswick.”
Dukes Meadows could be a replicable model for sustainable play provision for community groups working in partnership with local authorities.
Read the full story and Top Tips from lessons learned here.