Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Un-co-operative Lambeth Council: Friends of Lollard Street Adventure Playground, Kennington found it closed this morning

Playground closed sign taken from
I'd just like to draw readers' attention to a letter on Lollard Street Adventure Playground published on the Kennington Association news blog this morning from Anna Tapsell who is both chair of the Kennington Association (KA) and Treasurer of the Friends of Lollard Street Adventure Playground (FOLSAP).
FOLSAP have been working for some time to prevent the closure of Lollard Street Adventure Playground and to think about how it might be run in future, given the reality of Council cuts.

It seems, according to the letter, that the Council agreed at a meeting on June 16th that £45,000 was available to potentially be allocated to a local management group were they to put forward a viable business plan.  FOLSAP report that they did develop a business plan, but were later told at a meeting on 18th August that, contrary to the previous information, £45,000 would not be available to a local management project. 

Clearly the Lollard Street Adventure playground project had to go to tender, but FOLSAP are alleging that their experience with the Council has not been one of co-operation.  Given that our Co-operative council are not appearing terribly co-operative, perhaps constituents of other councils should take heed.  FOLSAP say the process began too late and that councillors/officers have presented mixed and non-transparent messages.  They raise a question as to the "propriety of the tender process"

In Lambeth, the letter asserts, having such playgrounds open is a "safeguarding issue", given that many parents leave their children there in place of after-school care.  Most worryingly, when Ms Tapsell visited the playground this morning, she found:
"just a scrawled ungrammatical note pinned to the gate saying that it would be closed this week. No explanation or other information about when it might be open. Two little boys were there with their table tennis bats. Their parents were back at work."

Additionally, the playground will now, according to the letter, only be open for one session on a weekday!  It won't be open on Saturdays at all.  Back on 7th April, at the KOV meeting, Cllr Harrison re-assured local residents that Lollard Street Adventure Playground would not be closing.   Arguably, one could liken a playground that runs for only one session a week to a closure in everything but name. Moreover, there are still questions to be asked about why it's closed this week, and why no information is available concerning its re-opening.  Indeed, opening the playground for such limited hours is likely to lead to it becoming less popular.  See the case of the Kennington Park Adventure playground in which two playgrounds will merge on to one smaller site to make way for housing, given alleged non-use of the land... where is it?  Ahh, yes, this is what I wrote back in September 2010:
The defence offered (by the architect) in favour of consolidating the [Kennington Park] site was that the One O'Clock club only opens for 3 hours per day for 4 days per week.  The One O'Clock club is apparently "not well used" (at peak times, the architect suggested that 20 children use it)...
Even more worrying, given recent civil unrest near these parts, is Lambeth's failure to understand that adventure playgrounds are a public place off the streets for children and young people to gather.  To fail to allow local organisations any say in the supposedly mutual process of running facilities is distinctly un-co-operative and short changes residents.  Short-term cost cutting of youth services will likely only lead to further social unrest.  A recent report from the Department of Education notes that a quarter of excluded primary school students expelled in 2009-2010 were from Lambeth.  There's no point in having police officers visit primary schools to warn children away from gang life if no alternative facilities are in place for their use and their parents are not at home to supervise on account of being at work.

It would be really good to see whether our MP still has any teeth when it comes to influencing the local authority and working for the good of less-affluent north Lambeth residents.


Tony Roberts said...

The reason that the sign has only appeared on the site is because it is the end of the summer holidays. The Council have known since May that Lollard Street would be closing, in all but name. It was agreed to stagger this decision until the schools re-open for the new term.

Cllr Steve Morgan said...

From: Robbins,Peter Cllr
To: Kennington Association

Hi Anna,

Apologies for not being able to reply to previous emails, as you will hopefully have seen from out-of-office replies I was away on annual leave until last week. Cllr Harrison and the other Princes ward councillors have also contacted myself and officers in the last few weeks, and I met with officers to discuss yesterday.

I know that you are aware of the position that the council has been forced into – the Coalition government has cut our funding by a third (equating to £12m of cuts in 2011/12 in CYPS alone, with more to come), and that they further reduced grant funding for children and young people by 20% (£5m) – part of which has always been used to fund adventure play. I don’t need to rehearse the arguments about ensuring that we protect our most vulnerable children by protecting children’s social care, children in care, children with disabilities, and that by protecting these areas we have been forced to look at reducing costs in non-statutory areas.

I’m very sorry that you feel the council has been uncommunicative and that you have received mixed messages – I apologise if I have played any part in that. As you know, we intend to make new arrangements for the seven council-run adventure playgrounds, which will see much more control and power to be given to groups such as FoLSAP. The date by which we intend the new co-operative council solution for adventure playgrounds to be in place has not changed - April 2012 – and a large amount of work is already underway, with users and parents are a central part of that.

However I was clear that the council were seeking to find an organisation to manage and deliver services at the seven council run playgrounds, purely as an interim measure, until the end of March 2012. We approached all existing Lambeth play providers, including the other voluntary sector APGs, to gauge interest. Yesterday I agreed that FoLSAP should be given the opportunity to help decide which organisation that should be, and I am sure that the interim provider will work closely with you.

For legal reasons, we cannot currently commission opening hours beyond those which were originally agreed by council – full time opening during school holidays, and one day a week during term time. However we want to work with you to find other groups that may be able to use the building and playground at other times, and increase the offer to local children.

Nearby, Kennington Park APG has also been reduced to one day a week opening, but Triangle APG and the Living Space APG will continue to operate their usual opening hours.

The option is absolutely still open for the Friends of Lollard Street AP to form an independent organisation, similar to those that run eight of Lambeth’s fifteen existing adventure playgrounds, and take over the running of the playground from April 2012, funded by the council in the same way as the other independent playgrounds. However this will need more than just a business plan – FoLSAP will need to be a legal entity (charity, Trust etc), and naturally would need to undergo basic checks in terms of safeguarding etc before being able to take full control.

I am not going to pretend that this is a perfect solution, and it is clearly proving to be a difficult process – but the other options of closure, or of introducing a permanent reduction in opening hours, are much worse. The cooperative council route offers a long-term, sustainable solution, with the local community in control.

I am due to meet with you this Friday and of course I’d be happy to discuss everything further then.

Best wishes,


Cllr Pete Robbins
Labour Councillor for Larkhall ward
Cabinet member for Children and Young People

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