LGC column Nov 21 by Susanna Rustin
Success! Queen’s Park Community Council won’t exist for another six months, yet we’ve managed to raise £60,000 to fund improvements to our well-loved but ill-equipped local playground. We submitted a joint application with Westminster City Council back in the summer, following meetings that brought together members of the parish council development group, Friends of Queen’s Park Gardens, the council parks department, ward councillors and the landscaping company that looks after open spaces in the borough. The discussions and form-filling took hours. I danced across my office when we learned it had all been worth it.
Sita Trust, the charitable wing of waste and recycling company Sita, is the source of this much needed investment in play equipment for the 7+ age group, and I can’t tell you have pleasing it is to have embarked on the process of spending this money. Back in January an old but serviceable steel climbing frame was removed from the park without warning. Disbelief turned to anger as local parents including me realised there was no plan to replace it. We organised a petition and the local paper published before-and-after pictures, the latter a depressing tableau of bare earth and disgruntled children swaddled in hats and scarves against the freezing weather.
But once we had identified Sita Trust’s Enhancing Communities fund as a plausible solution we established a good relationship with Westminster officials. They have embraced some if not all our notions of what the new playground might be, and we are confident that when it is completed next year it will be vastly better. In keeping with the community council’s commitment to maximising engagement, we are planning a focus group at a local school and a consultation that goes beyond notices pinned up with an email address to write to.
Bringing investment into our neighbourhood was always part of the plan for the community council. As yet we have no formal target, but in order to justify the additional tax residents will pay to fund the council, we need to show we can raise money as well as spend it.
So far so good. We have shown we can put a good pitch together. But while no one could begrudge the kids of Queen’s Park a decent play area – our ward is around two-thirds social housing with pockets of acute deprivation – it worries me to think of all the other areas suffering budget cuts, particularly to facilities for children, that won’t be so lucky. I hope Queen’s Park Community Council will prove to be an innovative, sustainable, entrepreneurial response to the public sector cuts that brought about our campaign in the first place. But we are not the solution.