Let's reclaim Doncaster's parks and green spaces from the yobs

Sandall Park, Doncaster. Picture: Marie Caley
Sandall Park, Doncaster. Picture: Marie Caley
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Officials want more volunteers and 'friends' groups to work with them on improving Doncaster's parks and curbing their levels of antisocial behaviour.

They want to expand a Doncaster green spaces network, and have seen schemes run by volunteers make improvements already, it emerged at the latest Doncaster Free Round table, on parks and open spaces, held at Potteric Carr Nature Reserve. Today we publish part one of our report.

L-r Tony Sockett, of Bentley Area Commumity Partnership, Jeremy Turner, Warmsworth Environmental group, Francis Jackson, Friends of Askern Lake, Andy Rutherford, DMBC Head of Street Scene and Highways Operations, David Kessen, Doncaster Free Press, Andy Dalton, Nature Reserve Gareway Manager, Don Crabtree, Friends of Sandall Park and Clarissa Jackson, Warmsworth Environmental Group. Picture: Marie Caley

L-r Tony Sockett, of Bentley Area Commumity Partnership, Jeremy Turner, Warmsworth Environmental group, Francis Jackson, Friends of Askern Lake, Andy Rutherford, DMBC Head of Street Scene and Highways Operations, David Kessen, Doncaster Free Press, Andy Dalton, Nature Reserve Gareway Manager, Don Crabtree, Friends of Sandall Park and Clarissa Jackson, Warmsworth Environmental Group. Picture: Marie Caley

Chaired by the Fress Press' David Kessen, our panel was: Andy Dalton, Gateway manager; Potteric Carr, Andy Rutherford, Doncaster Council's head of street scene and highways operations; Tony Sockett, Bentley Area Community Partnership; Don Crabtree, Friends of Sandall Park; Francis Jackson, Friends of Askern Lake; Clarissa Jackson and Jeremy Turner, both Warmsworth Environmental Group.

What are the main issues facing Doncaster's parks and open spaces at present?

Clarissa Jackson: Antisocial behaviour.

Francis Jackson: It's not unique to your area.

Jeremy Turner: I take my dog out every morning at 5.30am, and you find stuff smashed. It's horrible.

FJ: We at Askern have a problem with a group of youngsters. We believe they're aged from 11 to about 14. Every evening they congregate around the lake and during that time we've had them starting barbecues on the picnic tables and that damages the tables. The litter is unbelievable and that impacts on our staff, as the first thing they have to do when the wardens come is a litter pick. Doncaster Council has helped us as best they can, the difficulty is that these people congregate from about 5.30pm, until maybe 9pm. I've spoken to them on occasions and you can imagine what the response has been - foul language. Sometimes you find having spoken to them the reprisal is that they cause greater damage. .

Don Crabtree: It's not inevitable. There are things that can be done. to stop antisocial behaviour. But it needs work and it needs a long term plan. The trick is to make the bad guys in the park think it is being policed. That can be peer pressure. It is when you just get more decent people in than bad people, and eventually it forces the bad guys out.

CJ: I have spoken to someone from Doncaster Council and someone has complained to me about a local green space near to me that local children are coming off at 9pm and then different children from other areas are coming on and they're leaving litter and causing anti-social behaviour, so she's litter picking every day. so therefore I dropped this lady off a litter picker and a bin bag which has been supplied by the council, but when I spoke to a member of the safer neighbourhood team, I was told that they need somewhere to go. and they're not causing a nuisance It's the same in the park. Unfortunately, NRT (Neighbourhood Response Team) are so short staffed, the PSCOs are finishing at maybe 9 or 10pm, so anti-social behaviour after 9pm is not being addressed. That's when your bottles are getting smashed and your fires are happening, because there's no one there.

FJ: When I was a kid, we used to go to the parks and respect it. You may have played the odd game running across the flower bed because you were playing chase, but there seems to be a determination by this particular sector to destroy things just for the sake of it.

JT: It's boredom - there's nothing for them to do.

FJ: In Askern we have Shakers youth centre. It's just not being used.

CJ: I disagree. There are places for them to go. My children go bowling, they go to the Dome, . It's alright saying people haven't got money, you've got the church at Edlington where they can go an play snooker, but they choose not to do it because they would rather go and sit in a park and drink.

Andy Dalton: I agree with what's been said so far, but one of the benefits of Potteric Carr being 50 years old, is that I've got 50 years worth of reports to look at gong back to 1968. And things may have been different in the past. Park keepers would have told you what to do. But throughout the 70s, 80s 90s there have been repeated incidents of vandalism, hides being burnt down, youth drinking , things being torched and stolen, and that goes right back to the 70s, so it's not a new thing, it's not just this generation. I have an 18 year old and a 16 year old and their lives are very different to mine, at the age, but I don't think they're any better or worse than I was. I would say that the police and neighbourhood services are extremely stretched . We've had nine break-ins in 18 months here. We get petty theft and vandalism and I don't think its teenagers doing it. It is people who are wandering the reserve out of hours causing whatever they can cause. Police resources are being stretched.

Tony Sockett: In terms of Bentley, we're probably the only park in Doncaster with a park keeper, but that is as a result of the Heritage Lottery funding that went into both the park and the pavilion four or five years ago. Part of that was the revenue to retain the services of a park keeper. We're coming to the end of that period now but I think the fact that there is someone around, principally in the daytime has meant apart from the odd tile that gets broken on the bandstand, I haven't really noticed the level of vandalism that in the way you're talking. But our park is flanked by the old Bentley Pavilion and the Myplace youth centre so there are facilities for young people adjacent to the park anyway, that may reduce the amount of vandalism.

DC: From our area, we've got virtually zero antisocial behaviour in Sandall Park, or theft. We've had seven years without any damage whatsoever and that is amazing in a public park.

"We've been working long term at it. It doesn't change overnight, We've got our own crime reduction strategy, It's a fairly long term thing. It doesn't just target the offender, although that's part of it, and enforcement is a weak link - we lack enforcement in terms of the police and the council. The people who cause antisocial behaviour in Sandal Park and the same people who cause problems on the housing estates. They are more easily targeted in Sandall Park than the housing estates, as on the housing estates, neighbours often won't get involved, whereas you have people in Sandall Park who see kids on off-road motorbikes, or setting greyhounds on wildlife or something like that, and they'll stand up and be counted.

"One of the things is that change of mindset. These idiots, when they come into Sandall Park for example, they won't think is it right or wrong, they'll think will I get caught. We're trying to change that mindset and it's taken about 15 years to do it. They think 'Will I get caught? There're a lot of people watching me here'. If anyone does get a ticket, or we provide evidence against something, we make it known so they think someone might do something about this. We get videos sent to us about people depositing litter, setting greyhounds on ducks or whatever. Usually by the time we hand over something to the authorities it is pretty much fait accompli because we're pretty good in terms of preparing evidence packages. Usually its what they've done, who it is and where they live. Action us usually taken, but not always the action that we want. On some occasions there are cases of people dropping litter or dog fouling, we've given evidence. Our volunteers know what's required, but I've never been called to court.. I'm happy that they've been visited and that's all we want half the time.

Andy Rutherford: I can relate to what people are saying. There are various measures but it is important that people work together, The council can't solve everything , the police can't and the local community can't but in terms of the Green Space Network that's set up currently, clearly we'd like that to grow in terms of size and numbers of people interested in supporting each other. These are very valuable assets we have and it is all about everyone working together. There are good examples that we heard this morning how you can shame people or raise the bar in terms of standards and get a critical mass that gives the view of what is not acceptable . There's still a long way to go, but other practical measures are things like opening up areas so that people can be seen. We're getting stakeholder views. For me its something we take very seriously. We need all partners to come together and say we won't accept antisocial behaviour. It can only be achieved through a big team effort.

"The green spaces network has been set up from my team and friends of groups and people who have a real passion and interest in the green spaces of Doncaster borough. It's something we acknowledge is quite a compact group at the moment and very influential and there is more we can do in terms of trying to get more people involved in these.

DC: "We set it up about eight years ago together. It was set up as the Friends of Sandal park and the Friends of Woodfield Park. We identified very quickly that it was the same the problems over the borough in terms of green space, whether they be antisocial behaviour or particular specialised problems like lakes Martinwells Lake, Sandall Park, Cantley. We tried to identify themes that could pair people to resolve problems."