Thursday, October 29, 2009

Watford Lib Dems are to blame for their bad press over playgrounds

Later. There is some informed local comment in a later posting on this blog.

I am all in favour of adventure playgrounds. My heroine Lady Allen of Hurtwood wrote in 1975:

Since I first grasped, in Copenhagen, the magic potential of adventure playgrounds, I have spent much time and effort getting them accepted in this country. The hard struggle of the early years is now largely forgotten. We were freely accused of being anarchists or communists, and of undermining morals, as my press cuttings vividly show. It took years of site-snatching, money-raising and propaganda before we could begin to prove that it is rewarding to welcome the exuberance of the young.

It is a great delight, now, to find that the ideas behind our endeavours are generally well accepted, and that many understanding and dedicated people are prepared to join in the work so that young people people can have a fairer deal.

Times have changed since then, and not to the advantage of the adventure playground movement. So I have been delighted to learn from the current controversy that Watford Borough Council are still running adventure playgrounds.

I can quite see that to have parents staying with the children at such playgrounds would go against their ethos, so the council is quite in order to ask them to leave. As an eminently sensible posting on Dorothy Thornhill's blog makes clear, this has nothing to do with paranoia about paedophiles or Criminal Records Board clearance.

So far so good.

Trouble is, that is not the only posting Dorothy has written on the subject. There was an earlier one which disappeared for a while but has since reappeared. In it she wrote:
Imagine what those same papers would say if a child was snatched from the playground and we were accused of allowing free access of adults onto our site. Or worse still one of those adults was using it to acquire knowledge of and groom other children - yes sadly it happens we all know that. Again, we would rightly be pilloried.
If you add to this what Dorothy told the Daily Telegraph:
"Sadly, in today's climate, you can't have adults walking around unchecked in a children's playground and the adventure playground is not a meeting place for adults."
then you can't really blame the press for reporting the story the way they did. If you tell the world that a decision was made because of fear about paedophiles then that is what the world is likely to believe.

In today's Britain it is very hard to tell people they can't do something - parents or anyone else. So it is tempting to summon up folk demons like elf n'safety or paedophiles in support of what you are doing.

But this tactic can rebound on you, as it has in Watford.

1 comment:

Iain said...

I suppose we have to take on the chin your criticism that in an attempt to avoid offending parents we got the emphasis wrong in justifying an essentially practical operational decision.

There are issues about the quotes you give. The first blog post is a reflection on a council's dilemmas in dealing with such issues and the way they are handled by the press.

Councils will be vilified by the press if they are seen as being overprotective but the same journalists would doubtless criticise even more if a tragedy occurred through our being too lax and laid back about protecting children who were temporarily in the council's care.

The chances of terrible tragedy are remote but if they happened would be catastrophic. And if it did happen few people would leap to a council's defence and praise our tolerant, laissez faire attitude - I suspect not even you! Sadly, we can't altogether dismiss such concerns.

The second isn't a comment to the Daily Telegraph, but I believe taken from a letter sent to parents that in context clearly referred to this specific facility, not playgrounds in general.

It tried to convey both aspects of the issue - the practical problems of an adventure playground being treated as a meeting place for adults and the duty of child protection that we face, whatever we think of society's current mores on the subject.
Doubtless there are things we could have done better and might have done had it not all happened so quickly. But one does have this sense of constantly walking a tightrope between being excessively and insufficiently concerned about children's safety.