The Social Business

Milk and Playgrounds

This week seems to be the week when the Government has decided that it’s time for kids to take their fair share of the burden of cuts.

First there was the story about cutting free milk for young children, and then today they’ve announced that they’re cutting a fund which was to build a load of playgrounds across the country.

We know the story by now. These were unrealistic spending commitments. The scheme was brimming with daft bureaucracy and was costing a fortune. So you can’t have any more playgrounds, you feckless plebs.

What frustrates me in all of this is that I bet the Government has a bit of a point. I bet there is way too much bureaucracy involved in trying to get these playgrounds built. The Guardian Leeds Beatblogger is looking into it – and he reckons 10 are under threat in Leeds. I assume that means that only two have been built so far. Which, given that the scheme started two years ago, doesn’t strike you as particularly efficient. (see this story from Guardian Leeds for more up to date info) Just as Building Schools for the Future wasn’t efficiency’s greatest hour, you’d wonder whether more could have been built in the time available. But that doesn’t mean that it makes sense to just stop the programme.

It’s not often that I swear on Twitter, but this playground story really wound me up. I have a four year old son and few things depress me more than bad playgrounds. And in Leeds, most of them are poor. There’s the odd one that’s been updated – thanks to the funding that’s just been cut – but most are depressingly bad. We all know how important play is. How important exercise is. Fresh air.

We’re alright. We regularly join the weekend exodus from north Leeds to Harewood House. And why do hundreds of families go there every weekend? Because the playground is brilliant. So we’ve privatised our way out of playground misery. Millions can’t.

I looked through my photo album – and could have picked from a hundred happy photos and a handful of films to illustrate this post. Here’s one from a couple of years ago – Frank on the slide, and me and my sister cracking up in the background.

Categories: Social change, Social entrepreneurs

Big Society – a question of time? » « Social housing


  1. Well it’s certainly a poor deal when children are deprived of a happy life and that’s an issue I was blogging about on Business Zone today in the context of social business.

    Like most of these things it could do with some support.

  2. So, why don’t some of the Leeds community orgs borrow the cash to build their own playgrounds and then charge admission to all but the most needy? Cheaper than Harewood and for community benefit not just profit/preservation?

    Isn’t that what social entrepreneurs do? isn’t that what ‘Big Society’ is all about?

  3. Er, great idea, Robert. What hourly charge would cover loan repayments, construction, maintenance and the infrastructure needed to handle the charging? You seem to be advocating the equivalent of gated communities, with a special dispensation for really poor people (how would they be asked to prove their poverty?).

    Of course it might be an incentive for kids to get out of playgrounds and start reclaiming the streets for play. People would soon stop driving down them if they thought they’d get a cricket ball through their windscreens.

  4. But isn’t ehe playground at Harewood a ‘gated community’? Of course if every parent (or most anyway) in a community became shareholders in their new playgrounds they wouldn’t need to be gated . . .

    As for playing in the streets – yes, I’d go for that too. In fact you could then park all the cars on the playing field and walk home, past dozens of children playing in the street, not with expensive equipment but bats, balls and loads of imagination!

  5. Thanks for your comments. It’s an interesting one. Local people getting together to borrow money, build, then sustain a playground through charges does feel like a million miles away. But then I think about community pubs, community shops – daft ideas a few years ago, now becoming more mainstream (in spite of what the Govt may try to do in terms of cuts). So maybe we’ll be talking about parks with entrance fees soon, run by local people. I’d agree with Julian that charging different rates would be problematic.

    I went to the Jardin D’Acclimatation when we were in Paris this year.'Acclimatation

    You pay a small fee to get in, but what you get in return is a fabulous park, where we spent hours. Gated – yes. But accessible too. It would throw up big issues if we started gating our parks (practical ones as much as anything else) but if the options end up as no investment, and poor play areas, or a small fee for a good play area, then plenty of people would choose to pay something.

    Of course the real choice is real investment of public money in public spaces, but that doesn’t seem to be on the cards at the moment.

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