'We need someone to fight for Doncaster's parks'

Sandall Park, Doncaster. Picture: Marie Caley
Sandall Park, Doncaster. Picture: Marie Caley
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Doncaster needs someone in the council fighting the corner for the borough's parks, believes a parks campaigner.

It is among the suggestions to emerge at the latest Doncaster Free Round table, on parks and open spaces, held at Potteric Carr Nature Reserve. And it also emerged that Doncaster Council is currently working on a plan which will include the borough's parks.

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

Today we publish part two of our report.

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.

Are there issues other than antisocial behaviour facing parks at the moment?

Tony Sockett: I think changes in the facilities in parks. When I first moved into the area in 1964, I was still young enough to play tennis and had a choice of grass courts and hard courts at Bentley Park. I have no choice of any courts in the park now, and that's not a criticism, it's a fact of life. I don't think parks provide the kind of challenges that probably young adults aged 14 plus, would want to participate in. I've seen outdoor table tennis tables around. That would be very useful. We've certainly got a multi-use games are in Bentley Park, a floodlit area that is controlled from the neighbouring youth centre..

Clarissa Jackson: Warmsworth Parish Council this year has paid a sports coach to do 10 session on the multi-sports courts in the morning and the afternoon for the children. They can come from wherever and its been really successful. We're looking at paying for some more, out of the precept. But that is up to 10-13 year olds. There is nothing for the teenagers to do. We hear from the safer neighbourhood team that there may be a grant here or a grant there that we could apply for, but the main concern is vandalism. Doncaster Council spent 15 weeks in our park opening everywhere up, but the kids are still going in. Unfortunately children are getting hold of alcohol. A few times I've been in the park and spoken to people. I've had complaints made and made complaints myself. Its's not just the teenagers, you've got the old age pensioners to consider. Our park is trying to get green flag status so we need to look at children, teenagers, middle aged people and pensioners. Its a massive park . So much time is being spent in there. but unfortunately things are not up kept. because of the lack of volunteers within the village, and lack of funding from the council, which you can't blame them for.

Don Crabtree: I'd like to see some vision from the council as to what they see in future years from all parks' and green spaces' points of view,.and what the green spaces, particularly in our case Sandall Park, are going to look like. Who is working toward that vision?

CJ: We've been given survey forms from the council for us to get a five year plan

DC: What we want is a champion within the council, someone that fights for parks and greens, and there isn't that at the moment. We want someone high up who will say 'this is our vision'. My fear is that Sandall Park in five years will have no cafe, no public toilet, and no events. It needs someone in the council to think 'that's apocalyptic and must not happen'. But we need to work towards that not happening. We need a new cafe and we need a new toilet. We're working to change things, but we need the council to work towards the same vision of the park as we are and its not happening.

Andy Rutherford: There is a piece of work being led by the public health team that we've been feeding into that will do exactly that, a strategy for parks and open spaces that leads into the overarching green infrastructure strategy. Other policy documents have been produced recently to link in. It's OK having a high level strategy but you need some work workable, do-able, types of strategy to outline that vision . Its not just about clean and tidy parks its about the benefits of parks that are free to everyone and easily accessible and about the health and well being benefits. It's about getting people fitter and healthier and managing mental health as well. That's been started and something that's being worked up. It's not a quick five minute job, but it will be produced and there will be consultation.

DC: Even the Victorians 200 years ago realised the importance of parks for health. Something along the line it has been lost.

AR: In terms of the support I get from the council, for parks and open spaces, I get a lot of support and they're very important to the council. We've worked very hard to mitigate any cuts by more efficiency and more investment in equipment so in terms of what we can do, in terms of technical officer support or front line service, we're working very hard. Our service alone has taken over £2 million out of its service in the last three years, and we've still got a fighting chance of delivering something decent. You're right, we need a proper plan. We're also looking at trusts. Areas such as Elmfield Park, we're looking to dedicate as a green space so that the council dedicates to having that as a green space for years to come. We're happy for other sites to be dedicated as well. There is quite a lot going on.

In terms of the Green Future, the Government strategy document that came out this week, from the Strategic Policy Unit, are looking at a wider playing pitch strategy. With that and the parks and open spaces strategy and vision, they are actively being worked at.

TS: We have talked about parish councils. In Bentley we don't have a town council. There is no local parish or town council. I personally wouldn't mind spending an additional amount of money as a precept if that would enable the community to have resources that it can properly utilised. I run the annual fireworks display in the park, although I have given notice that I won't be doing it next year. We have 5,500 people in the park at night time last year. We had 20 volunteers staffing the four entrances into the park. We have to do all the risk assessments, we have to do all the setting out, and the clearing up, the volunteers. Six or seven years ago, those volunteers would be helping Doncaster Council staff to do that. As it is, and its not a criticism of Doncaster Council as I'm realistic, the amount of resources that have gone to work in neighbourhoods and communities, are just about disappeared.

CJ: We had a Warmsworth gala on St George's Field. The council supported us with litter picking, and the army cadets were superb. I spoke the the gentlemen afterwards and asked if we could do something in the village. Do we not need to asking schools and organisation if they have anyone who wants to come and do some volunteers for them who want to do volunteering in the village, because we struggle.

Francis Jackson: When you talk about volunteers, that's one of my main concerns. Most people here are from a friends group. What's going to happen when those friends groups fail? The group that I'm in the majority of the age is 60 and above. They are really dedicated people but there are no new members coming in. We held our gala. There were five people trying to run a gala. DMBC offered to help but it didn't materialise.

"We've approached the scouts to become involved, we've approached the swimming club. Its failing because these groups operate on volunteers, and people only have so much time. Askern Town Council employs two wardens. Those warden maintain our field, and the grounds of Askern Lake. The difficulty we have is investment. Its's an old Victorian lake. It needs a lot of money spending on it. probably £500,000. We just can't get that money . Askern Town Council can't keep saying to the people we're going to put up the parish precept. I look at that as double taxation. We're lucky that we've got public toilets, but they're maintained by Askern Town Council. We have to pay the rates.

DC: Friends of Sandall Park. since we got involved, have put £700,000 into Sandall Park. It would not be there as it stands now it it wasn't for Friends of Sandall Park.

CJ: Is that through applying for grants?

DC: It is, yes.. One thing I always say to other groups, who have some to us, is we don't want the money. All we want is influence with the council to make sure someone spends the money in the right place, and that's why we need to work close together with the council to make sure that that money that the council has goes to the right place at the same time as we're applying externally for the £700,000.