What’s the Space to Play campaign all about?
Many local people told Green activists that one of their top concerns is a lack of things for young people to do. Since then, local resident and Green campaigner, Kirsten Robb, has been investigating local play spaces and working with the community to get improvements.
There are two Space to Play campaigns: one to reopen primary school Multi-Use Games Areas (MUGAs) out with school hours as originally intended and the other to improve every play park in South Lanarkshire, including reopening any play parks closed since May 2021. Both campaigns call on the council to prepare a Play Strategy so children’s right to play is recognised, valued and acted on.
Multi-use games areas reopening
When many of South Lanarkshire’s primary schools were rebuilt there was a policy of making their new MUGAs available to the wider community out with school hours. A good intention. Yet during an initial survey of just one ward in South Lanarkshire, Kirsten found only 3 out of the 7 primary school MUGAs were open after hours. Two of these sites had been closed for long periods (in St Leonards’ case, it had been closed for nearly a decade). After several Freedom ofInformation requests, Kirsten requested a meeting with SLC Education Facilities team. Long Calderwood Primary MUGA opened up rapidly and after several more emails, St Leonards and St Hilary’s MUGAs are also now open. The only remaining schools in the ward whose MUGA is not open is Hunter Primary, which at the moment does not have a separate entrance and Calderglen High School – which Kirsten is still pursuing (more complicated as the school was built and is owned by a private company). It’s been great to work with local residents to get these sites reopened, and kept open with the support of EK Community Litter Pickers. We are just now exploring how these assets can be better advertised so young people and their families know they can use them for health, wellbeing and fun.
The campaigns have increased in profile since the three local Councillors in East Kilbride East ward approved a decision to close Hazelhead Park in June 2021 withno proper community consultation, after some reports of vandalism. Now around 800 people in total have signed the petitions and they will be added to the council’s petitions committee so elected members can consider what action needs to be taken.
Kirsten commented, “Play is so valuable for children’s development, particularly after the lockdown year we have all had. But these spaces are also important for wider communities – it’s sometimes the only space now where different generations can meet informally. Legally children’s voices must be heard on these issues and by listening to each other, we can solve any problems together and improve these much loved spaces.”
Responding to the lack of consultation, local residents also carried out a community survey to gather and listen to all views on the future of two local parks. Read the results here. After pressure from the Space to Play campaign and the public, there seems to be a change of heart and some play items may yet be put back in Hazelhead and we are asking SLC to work with the local community and local multi-agency problem solving teams to address any concerns.
Kirsten lives in the ward and when she is out and about with her kids in the parks, at schools and chatting to people, several park issues have come up that needed attention. By being persistent, she has ensured that chutes have been replaced, swings fixed, areas grassed over and bins put in place (at Othello, Lammermoor, Stratford and the former park next to Long Calderwood Primary). Aside from local ward action, there are opportunities to improve parks across South Lanarkshire. The Scottish Government have committed £60 million within the first 100 days of the new parliament to ‘renew every play park in Scotland’. The details of how this fund will be allocated and managed have not yet been given to local authorities but SLC has 234 play areas plus those built and maintained by private house builders in estates. Some years ago a decision was taken to close 118 parks and focus maintenance / investment on the existing 234 into the future, so Greens believe that SLC should honour that commitment and use their allocation from the Scottish Government to improve local parks.
The Space to Play campaign want the importance of play to be recognised at the highest level in South Lanarkshire and are reaching out to a range of play organisations to support the campaign. The campaign contacted the SLC Community Empowerment Team to see how this could be done and work will be taken forward with community planning lead officers and the head of children’s services on this after the end of August.
Just in East Kilbride East Greens are also actively investigating how other community assets can be opened up or improved to benefit the community – the‘cage’ at the former Persimmon estate off Morrishall Road, St Hilary’s MUGA and Calderglen High School pitches.