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