Home Page Rec upgrade will be great during the day, but what about at night? 04/04/14

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Matthew Hancock
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Hart of the Matter

In the heated political atmosphere of the moment it is hard to find any subject which cannot be rounded into a neat little football to be kicked around between the various camps, whether they be Farage and Clegg on TV or just little old Haverhill councillors.


However, you would not think a revamp of the Recreation Ground in Haverhill would give much food for argument. After all, what St Edmundsbury Borough Council is proposing is little more than an upgrade on what is already there.


Compared with previous spats about the Rec it is an infinitesimal issue. Nevertheless there are those keen to claim credit and those keen to deny credit, as always.


It is probably just as well for all concerned that it is such a small-scale scheme, because history tells us that anything bigger would be massively controversial and not likely to reflect well on anyone involved.


The Rec is, of course, a dearly-loved feature of Haverhill life, from the car boot sales to the gardeners markets to just lying out in the sun on a lazy Sunday afternoon listening to the band.


It is a simple, no-frills facility in keeping with the sort of thing Haverhill people can relate to, and efforts to change that have always been doomed to meet hefty objection.


Quite a few years ago now, St Edmundsbury came forward with a grandiose scheme to transform the Rec and make it like Haverhill’s version of the Abbey Gardens in Bury St Edmunds.


On the face of it, that didn’t seem too unreasonable an idea, because people then, as now, were continually complaining that Haverhill didn’t have equivalent features to what Bury had, and the council were criticised for not spending any money at all here in comparison with what they spent in Bury.


The Abbey Gardens was often quoted as a prime example of something Bury had and Haverhill did not, and the cost of maintaining it, being borne by all the borough council tax payers, including Haverhill, was never successfully justified by the argument that we could always travel to Bury and enjoy it.


So the council came up with an idea for dividing the Rec into triangular quarters, and among the features which would be created would be a colourful memorial garden and a sensory garden, as well as a special children’s play area.


Haverhill people jumped up and down and, as far as I remember, actually launched a petition against the idea, claiming they liked their Rec just as it was, which must have puzzled those in power in Bury St Edmunds not a little.


Among the reasons behind this were several which no longer apply. It would, for instance, have meant doing away with the football pitches, which were a much-used venue for Sunday League matches, and so on.


What people really wanted was the old Recreation Ground reinstated from the 1950s, with the bandstand, the ‘Old Folks Rest’ as the shelter was familiarly known, and the play area with a slide (long since condemned) and roundabout.


So what we finally got, after a lot of debate and re-thinking, was pretty much what we have now. The old bandstand, dismantled but supposedly put in store, could not be traced so a new one was created, and a series of railed-off play areas were installed. No new shelter was proposed, but the toilets were revamped and a kiosk included for sale of ice creams etc.


The green curved iron benches were replaced with the current, supposedly indestructible, black plastic ones, lots of new bins installed, along with dog bins, and a second diagonal path across the middle put in place, intersecting the old one, to create the four triangular quarters. The old path was slightly rerouted to make it winding instead of straight, supposedly more aesthetic.


Interest in the Rec tends to wax and wane from time to time, but on a pleasant summer’s day it still presents an attractive scene. Equally, after a significant snowfall when people are out making snowmen or tobogganing, it can look like a scene from a Dutch Master.


Like anything else it has its darker side. At Safer Neighbourhood Team meetings we often hear of groups of men drinking on the Rec at all times of the day. Legend has it that they are mostly Eastern European, although there is little real evidence for that other than the empty bottles of Polish beer or vodka left lying around, and anyone can drink those.


We sometimes hear of drug-dealing after dark, of highly dangerous dogs running off the leash or, worst of all and fortunately not recently, of claims of rape or sex attack which turn out to be imaginary – the so-called ‘Haverhill rapes’ which have in the past done so much to damage the efforts of anyone dealing with real attacks in the town.


The latest plans do not include what the area probably needs most of all – decent lighting, at least in the centre. It is not currently a place where people can feel comfortable walking at night, a quality it has in common with much of the Railway Walk and with the churchyard, although this last is now, I’m glad to say, being addressed by a rather more imaginative scheme than anything on view for the Rec.


But, of course, lighting would cost real money, not just to install but as an ongoing provision, and is way beyond the moderate, though welcome, outlay being suggested for the current scheme.


This is all about daytime use by children and families, which is excellent, but will only work if it proves possible to exclude those teenagers whose behaviour and conversation often currently make the play area an exclusion zone for anyone with any sensibility.

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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