Border Lines

Berwick, North Northumberland: Food-Travel-Culture-Community

A playground and somewhere to hang out

The 10–Year–Old wants a playground where she can climb, swing, slide and spin. She says there’s nowhere in Berwick and that in London there were great playgrounds. I don’t always bow to the wants or will of my offspring, but I think she has a point.

When we first moved to Finsbury Park, North London the children’s playground was a desultory affair. A couple of battered swings creaked limply when not being mistreated by spotty youths, a crooked tin slide kept them company. The nearby peace garden was popular. Encircled by trees, it had brilliant rocks for climbing. And offered perfect shelter for junkies and drinkers. A battered café which opened sporadically looked reproachfully over the whole sorry affair.

This amenity served a catchment of some 34,500 people.

In 2003 the park was transformed with Heritage Lottery Funds, strong leadership and joined–up vision. It’s now a hub for the local community – a safe oasis despite the massive issues of gang culture and social deprivation. The boating pond was dredged and prettied, new play equipment – climbing frames, swings, roundabouts, and a sand pit with pulleys and levers – was installed. Overall, it met children’s need for danger and entertainment and parents’ desire for safety and a sit down. Perhaps the weakest area (and I’m going to whisper this) is the splash bit. It’s prone to breakdowns and is so seasonal that it’s not really open long enough to say, ‘wet T–shirt’.

The rebuilt café is lovely to behold, with tables outside, reasonable menu, and the all–important ice cream window – and it’s open all day. The adjoining loos are no longer frequented by cottagers. The whole place is constantly heaving with families and school parties. Children want to go there to catch up with their friends and, quite simply, because it’s fun. There’s easy parking nearby and those who drive, willingly pay to enjoy the facilities. Parents chat over tea and coffee while their offspring frolic, argue and make up. Also, there’s space and facilities alongside for older children to kick ball, skateboard and hang out. Older children will always seek and create entertainment, much of it good – take the mountain bike track under the Walls by the tennis courts – but guiding them to positive outlets has to be win–win.

The bike track by the tennis courts is an example of older children creating their own entertainment - of course it's probably wearing for those living over the Walls

Personally I think there are loads of fun open spaces in Berwick and when I was a gal in Suffolk, Mum opened the back door after breakfast bidding me not to return until tea time. I’d roam fields, climb trees and do dangerous things with airguns. But that was then and this is now. Times have changed and good play areas should be available to children. And they can and should be safe and fun rather than havens for antisocial behaviour that make neighbour’s lives a misery. So regular security checks by community police officers or somesuch may be needed.

But more importantly – and probably most off–putting for those looking to get up to no good – such amenities have to be heavily used by the people they are intended for. Which means getting location, equipment and facilities right – including parking. The Spittal playground ticks most boxes.

The playground at Spittal ticks most boxes

So, in the interests of promoting The 10–Year–Old’s fantasy, I’ve identified potential sites in Berwick. The playground above Greenses Beach could be revamped but isn’t great if you’re just passing through. Accessibility is an issue for the sad swing site by the rose garden. What about that paddock over the railway bridge on North Road? Again, parking’s not easy.

Sad swings

Here’s the masterplan: the end of the long stay car park by the Co–op. There’s space and parking. We could even pop in a basketball court for older kids. Surely English Heritage might allow a café in the gun emplacement? Such an amenity could well draw more visitors into town and do something to address the pull of out–of–town free parking and shops. Let me know what you think.

By the Co-op - loads of town-centre space with playground and cafe potential as well as areas to create somewhere for older children to hang out and not lose their cool

A version of this article was first published on November 3rd 2011 in The Berwick Advertiser

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