Home Page As the holidays begin an old, old problem raises its head 21/07/15

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Matthew Hancock
Your Local MP

Hart of the Matter

This week sees the start of the long school summer holidays and suddenly the issue of something for the youngsters to do will raise its head again in Haverhill.

It’s not a new issue. I can remember in my first year working in Haverhill in the mid 1970s, writing features about the ‘Playdays’ as they were called, run by Suffolk County Council – organised weeks of activities based around the different council estates in the town.

Already people were beginning to realise that Haverhill was under-provided with outlets for the energy of the many young people which town expansion and the baby boom coinciding had brought to this cut-off corner of Suffolk.

St Edmundsbury Council’s answer was always simple enough – add another room to the sports centre, or another swing to the play areas.

But, to be fair to councils, they were already being hamstrung by the beginnings of the tidal wave of regulation and legislation which has inundated this area of life.

The town had never needed much in the way of play facilities when it had 4,000 inhabitants. The countryside was at hand, outside almost everyone’s back door, and in those more innocent times children could be allowed out all day to find their own entertainment – which they did in The Meadows or in the chalk pits on Chalkstone Hills.

By the time we got to the 1970s, something more was required and it had come about through the work of the playleaders whom the county council used to employ.

A great big adventure playground arose at Puddlebrook – something much bigger and more exciting than anything you would find in this town or any others today.

Of course there were risks. The place had rope bridges and aerial walkways among other possible hazards. I presume there were accidents from time to time but I don’t think anybody sued.

It was much beloved of that generation, and when St Edmundsbury closed it down there was a massive outcry. The closure was seen as one of the major examples of Bury not wanting Haverhill to have anything more successful than what Bury had.

In fact, I suspect there was a lot of legislation coming down the line which officers could see would cost the council an inordinate amount if Puddlebrook Adventure Playground was going to be made to conform to it.

In those days it was mostly to do with insurance and liability – so-called ‘health and safety’. That is, of course, still very relevant, but now there is just as much emphasis on ‘safeguarding’ – protecting children from abusers of various kinds.

The adventure playground was staffed, so there was a saving there for the councils involved. Nothing of that kind is staffed now.

There are places in town which are set up for young people to enjoy – play areas like the Aeroplane Park, the Tractor Park or the new one on the Recreation Ground, the Skatepark and the Newt Pond area.

These, however, do not appeal to all young people. The new one on the Recreation Ground is very popular – almost overcrowded at times – but there are issues around the Skatepark already, even before the holidays have started.

And then we have had the eruption of so-called anti-social behaviour at the lake in the research park, which was always a possibility as long as the lake was created when the buildings planned all around it were not yet out of the ground.

But the very fact that young people are prepared to travel up there shows they are looking for somewhere nice. It is nicely landscaped and well set out with benches, etc.

There will be many residents who say this is the problem – as soon as you create something nice, the young people go there and ruin it for everyone else. But why should we assume that something which is nice for residents is not going to be attractive to young people? Of course they will like it and want to go there.

The only complaint should be when they use it in a way which intrudes on other people – users or neighbours. The only way to prevent that is through education.

Children need to be taught how to use the public environment around them without being inconsiderate to others. I would have thought parents were the best-placed to provide this instruction but if they don’t, as appears to be the case quite often in Haverhill, then it will fall on the schools.

I am sure schools do teach this sort of thing as part of the social education element in the curriculum, but perhaps more emphasis needs to be given to it. It’s all part of being a responsible citizen, along with taking an interest in local government, and voting.

Too many young people are brought up nowadays in a world of individualism which has crept into this country from America and is slowly taking over. John Donne said: ‘No man is an island entire of itself’, but how many young people have exactly what that means impressed upon them?

Of course, they learn by example, and the example they see most of is that of the next generation up, their parents’ contemporaries, who may think nothing of taking over the soundspace on a bus or in a railway carriage with a stressed phone call or some loud music, who ignore signs telling them they cannot drive down the high street or who dump their litter on the Recreation Ground for someone else to pick up (or not, as the case may be).

These problems are no greater here than in other towns, I am sure, but they are higher profile because we have a high proportion of youngsters and a poor provision of places for them to enjoy during the summer. The local authorities cannot do much about the former so they had better give more attention to the latter.

David Hart
David Hart revives his personal take on the week in Haverhill, covering everything from major town developments to what we do with our rubbish.
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