I was keen to go to the meeting as Horfield Common is the nearest park to where we live. I often take my children there for a burst of fresh air and to break the day up.
But attending this meeting had a deeper interest for me. I grew up in this part of Bristol and this is the park my dad used to take me to when I was little. I have strong memories of walking there with him and him patiently pushing me on the swings, just as he does with his own grandchildren now.
The park itself has differed very little in the 30-odd years since then, however. Although Horfield Common is beautiful in all seasons, the play park itself is shabby, rusty and in dire need of updating.
It was sad to see there were no other local mums of young children at the meeting. I think the 7pm meeting time and it being a Friday night and a very dark one at that, just didn’t concord with bedtimes of little ones. There were a couple of local dads, however.
Mark Gundry and Richard Fletcher, both from Bristol City Council, were there to hold the meeting. They explained that the purpose of the night’s meeting was not to discuss the play park apparatus (which was what I had been expecting). The meeting was rather to discuss the broader picture and any concerns or fears that local people may have about the proposed new play park.
It was explained that £110,000 has been allocated to the new play park. This money will not only be spent on play park equipment but on new fencing, seats, signs and bins. The park will be aimed at 0-12 year-olds.
It is planned that the new play park will have an altogether greener appearance and feel. We were told that the immediate area around the new play park will be dog-free so as to enable people to have picnics and children to be able to run free safely. More tress will be planted around the park to give more shade. There will be high slides, more challenging climbing frames and tree trunks and logs as part of the play apparatus, too.
There will be less hard surfacing and instead will have the same ‘greener’ surfacing as newer local parks such as St Andrews Park and the one by Horfield Leisure Centre. I know this proposed aspect is a concern of a lot of local parents, myself included, as the surface at the park by the leisure centre is boggy, muddy and wholly impractical.
One resident of Highfield Grove, the road next to the patch of grass at the rear of the play park stood up to voice his concerns. He explained that he had been living on Highfield Grove for 16 years and in this time had experienced a lot of anti-social behaviour from this area of land.
This man told us he had put up with noise, litter thrown into his garden and had even been threatened. He explained that while he was not against with the new play park, he was concerned that it would increase such problems.
His next-door neighbour of this man then also stood up. He agreed with what his neighbour had said and explained that he had been burgled three times since living there.
Mark and Richard were asked if it was possible if the park could be moved to another area of Horfield Common. They explained that this was not impossible; indeed this had been done with the play park by the leisure centre. However, this would require planning permission and would add on another 6 months to the project.
There were different opinions regarding the best placing of the play park. Some felt that wherever the play park was on the Common would make no difference and that it was not only residents of Highfield Grove who experienced noise and anti-social behaviour but residents of Maple Road also, as well as other roads that surround the Common.
I am in the camp of believing the new play park should be moved to the centre of the Common, on the land that is next to the car park of the Ardagh pavilion. I think this would be the best spot for several reasons. First, having the park in the centre of the common would add distance between all houses which back on to the Common. I think this would reduce disturbance from noise and anti-social behaviour to the Highfield Grove residents.
I also think that it would be more convenient for people who had driven to the play park, seeing as it would then be next to the car park. It is hoped that at some point there will be a cafe at the Ardagh. I think placing the play park next to the car park and cafe would make more sense.
Yes, moving the play park would add on another 6 months to the project and would be inconvenient to the Council. But in the grand scheme of things, 6 months is such a short amount of time to ensure the play park is ideally placed. Therefore I think the placement of the proposed park needs to be given more thought.
One local woman did raise a valid point in the, at times, heated discussions at the meeting. She felt that focusing too much on where the park was place detracted from other uses of the Common. She pointed out the Common was not just used by young children and their parents but also by a multitude of dog-walkers, joggers, picnickers, etc.
Although I do think that the play park would be better placed in the centre of Horfield Common, I also think reasons why teens hang around parks should be thought about. My husband has often remarked on the many tennis courts on the Common which are usually unused. We walked past them earlier today and all were empty.
My husband’s view is that one or two of these courts could be used for local kids to play football or have a basket ball hoop in. I know this would not solve the problem of teens hanging around play parks, but maybe it might help a little?
I actually found the night’s meeting really interesting and it gave me a lot of food for thought. What was also really nice was to meet local people. I sat next to a local dad who it turned out was the husband of someone I know who I see at Ardagh Toddlers every week.
I also got chatting to someone who I found out lived on my road! I recognised her from passing her when I am out with the kids and she is walking her dogs. Because it was such a dark night and I had been a little nervous walking home through the lane out of Horfield Common, we decided to walk home together for safety’s sake.
I have never really got involved with community issues before now. I certainly have always veered away from speaking aloud as it is not something I find easy. But at this meeting it felt good to feel I had a small say in something as important as the future of the play park at Horfield Common and thus, the future generations who will use it.
Who knows, in 30 years time, maybe my own children will be taking their children to the play park on Horfield Common, just as my dad did with me.
What are your thoughts on the placing of the new play park? Do you think it should be moved or be kept where it is? And what do you think about the idea of one or two of the Ardagh tennis courts being available for local kids to use for football and basket ball, etc? All comments will be forwarded to the Project Manager of the proposed new play park.