Friday, 21 October 2011

Mothers critical of lottery funded playground in Victoria Park

Many local parents have been very critical of the loss of playground provision in Victoria Park during the summer months and school holidays.  Local mothers are now describing the new lottery funded playground - which has no proper fence - as a "nightmare" and unusable.

This week there has been mounting criticism of the new park on the Friends of Victoria Park Facebook Page of the design of the new playground in the western part of the Park.  (The Facebook page is only accessible to people who are logged into Facebook).

The new playground design is part of the Council's  £12 million makeover of Victoria Park - in part funded by a £4.5m grant from the Lottery Fund

Criticisms of the Playground design

A view of the new children's playground in Victoria Park West
- green fencing around one o'clock club visible on right
- fencing in foreground does NOT surround the playground
- the proposed log barrier on the perimeter will be as low as 0.5 metres (19")
- the humps and solid playground equipment will obscure children from a parent's view at times
Mothers are stating that they will be unable to use the new playground.  

The main criticisms are:
  • Poor quality communication and consultation with the Mothers who have used the previous playground on a regular basis.  Had it been done effectively the criticisms now being made would hopefully have influenced the design.  
    • Many mothers now feel they were not given adequate information or an opportunity to provide comments on detailed design proposals
    • Those who remember being consulted can remember no proposal to remove the fence.
    • Those who have seen the new playground have assumed that the fence was still to be built - hence no comments until now.
  • The new design has no effective fence around the playground.  You can see the plan of the playground here.  Many Mums (and other parents and childcarers) look after children of different ages.  It's essential that they can all be confident that ALL their children are in an enclosed and properly gated space where they can run about at will - without coming to any danger and without Mums having to develop eyes in the back of their heads.  A proper gated area surrounded by a fence provides this confidence that children cannot get out and dogs cannot get in.
    • The main playground has no proper fence at all.  
    • It is surrounded by a log barrier which is as low as 0.5 metres in places.  This height represents an exciting climbing opportunity for an agile small child - and can easily be jumped by a dog
    • Only the 1 o'clock club for the tiny tots will have a high fence (see green fence in the above photo).  
    • Dogs will be able to get into the playground very easily.  This is despite the fact that all playgrounds for children should be free of dog urine and excreta.  (see also below)
  • Mothers and other child carers will be unable to have a clear view of their children at all times.  The nature and location of the new play equipment means that it obscures the view that mothers have of their children and what they are doing.  Some mothers think this will make the playground unsafe. 
  • Dogs will be able to get into the new playground easily and consequently will be a major health and injury hazard for children in the playground   
    • The log barrier represents no obstacle at all to a dog.  
    • The reasons why dogs are hazardous and it is an imperative that dogs be kept out of the playground are summarised below in an extract from a statement by ROSPA and this document Dogs on Play Areas(PDF 241kb)
    • The proposal that all dogs should be on leads in the western half of the park is very likely to be ineffective.  It will be IGNORED by stray dogs, people who cannot read, people who don't see the notices and anybody who is irresponsible and wants to carry on doing what they've always done.  
    • It's been suggested that the only effective solution is the installation of cattle grids at all entrances to the park - as has been done at London Fields.  This would stop dogs being able to enter the park at will.
The problem
Dogs on children’s playgrounds represent a major health and injury hazard:
  • over 350,000 tons of excrement is deposited each year
  • over 100 people, mainly children, have eye diseases caught by swallowing the Toxocara egg each year. This is caused by the parasitic roundworm in dog faeces
  • There is evidence that dogs also carry e.coli and hepatitis in their faeces.
  • 1600 children are taken to hospital casualty departments with dog bites
ROSPA - Dogs on Play Areas
The contrast with school playgrounds

What is extremely odd is that the primary schools all have gated and secure high fences around their playgrounds.  This now seems to be a mandatory requirement for keeping children safe while in the Council's "in loco parentis" care.  However, when it comes to a playground for children in Victoria Park any concerns about their security and making it easy for parents to care for their children seem to have gone out the window.

We understand that Councillor Joshua Peck (ward Councillor for Bow West) is pursuing an enquiry arising out of residents' complaints about the lack of adequate provision of playspace for the children in the park during summer months - and the general poor project management of the renovation of the park.

Maybe he could now address the issue of the playground as well?

The best park in London?

In September Victoria Park won a Green Flag run by Keep Britain Tidy and came 8th in the People's Choice Competition for the best park in the UK.  The Council's website quotes the Mayor as follows
Mayor Lutfur Rahman, Tower Hamlets Council, said: “With more than 100 parks and open spaces in the borough, Victoria Park is Tower Hamlets’ crown jewel. It is fantastic that our park has been recognised by the nation.
“It mixes a wealth of heritage with fantastic play spaces, sports facilities and vistas. Our restoration investment builds on these features, making sure that Victoria Park remains one of the country’s best loved open spaces for years to come.”
Mayor Rahman's opinion of Victoria Park seems to be at variance with the views of at least some of the local parents.  Perhaps he should meet with some of the local Mothers and hear their views about what it was like for their kids during the summer months when both playgrounds were closed.  Maybe he could also read or hear their views about the "fantastic play space" on offer in Victoria Park.

A link to this blog post will be sent to the Lottery Fund - which has part funded the improvements, the body which organises the Green Flag awards,  the Mayor's Office and Councillor Peck.  MERA will be inviting their comments.

Friends of Victoria Park Public Meeting

There is a public meeting of the Friends of Victoria Park on 8th November where issues related to the Children's Playground (and other matters relating to theVictoria Park redevelopment) can be raised.

The meeting is in the Meeting Room at St Paul's Church in St Stephen's Road between 18:30 and 20:30.  (Apologies - that link is only visible to people with a Facebook account and who are logged into Facebook)


  1. I think the problems highlighted with the lack of fence are true but it is unfair to say that the park is a is great fun and a good contrast to other parks in the area giving children different things to play with. All the children are very happy and I think this is how it was designed. I agree it could be a bit easier for mums and it is important that there is a fence of some kind.

  2. "Nightmare" is a word used by mothers who have tried looking after more than one child under 5 in the playground without any other support.

    Of course the content of the playground is great fun. It's the practical aspects of looking after the children which provide such a challenge and have forced some mothers to start taking their children to different playgrounds just so they know they are safe - and that dogs and their poo can be kept out!

    The point is it could be a lot easier for Mums if there were a fence. It would have been part of the design if there had been proper consultation in the first place and the Mums had been aware that there was never any intention of having a fence.

  3. it would be great to have a baby change facility within the playground.


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