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Community backs occupation to save adventure playground

The occupation of the Battersea Park Adventure playground in South London has won support from the community after local residents and activists from Occupy London moved to save it from the bulldozers. Photo report by Peter Arkell.

Battersea Adventure Playgound
Former worker at the playground Lydia (centre) with teenagers Jasmine and Charrelle at the rally

Nearly 5,000 people and another 1,000 on line have so far signed the petition to keep the playground open. And a 100 people braved freezing weather at the weekend to join a rally in support of the occupation.

Battersea Adventure Playgound
Wandsworth Events Police keep a constant presence at the playground

Parks police are preventing anyone from entering the playground, so supplies for the occupiers have to be passed over the high fence that surrounds it. Entry and exit is by climbing over the fence. 

Battersea Adventure Playgound
Hopping over the fence...

The adventure playground has been built up and improved over the last 50 years and has provided teenagers from Battersea and beyond with a focus, a refuge and a chance for adventure in a safe environment. Young people have worked together creatively with staff for cultural events such as music, dance, arts and crafts.

Battersea Adventure Playgound
Occupiers inside the adventure playground

Tory-controlled Wandsworth council, which closed the playground three months ago, sacking the staff, plan to extend the adjoining playground for younger kids with more off-the-shelf equipment, requiring fewer staff. A court hearing is due this week for repossession.

In a bid to separate them from the community, the council has put up notices blaming the occupation for the closure of the adjoining One O’clock Centre and the toddlers’ playground. “These facilities will remain closed until the protesters leave,” the notice reads.  

The occupiers accuse the council of witch-hunting and have displayed their response on their own notices outside the playground.  One reads: “Protesters have occupied the adventure playground and are seeking to prevent work to demolish the current iconic facility and replace it with a staffless, and so-called safe, 'adventure playground from a catalogue' facility”.

The occupiers pledge to maintain their “unbroken record of cleanliness and good behaviour” and say the council could re-open the neighbouring playgrounds “as soon as they wish in complete safety”. 

Battersea Adventure Playgound
Occupiers trying to keep warm inside the playground

Speakers at the rally included redundant staff, neighbouring residents, some of the teenage users of the playground, representatives from Wandsworth Against Cuts and from Occupy, a Labour councillor, and poet Catherine Brogan. They called for the council to call off the planned demolition and to re-instate a fully-staffed playground for teenagers. There were also calls for the council to hold a public meeting on the issue and a full consultation with the local community.

Battersea Adventure Playgound
New sign

Lydia, a former worker on the site for 10 years, condemned the council’s actions. “Teenagers need to be challenged,” she said. “The playground belongs to the whole community, but especially to the young people.”

Neville, who has worked with youngsters round the area, accused the council of trying to divide the wealthy from the poorer people in the borough. “It is wrong to take away something so central to the community. It is a lie that we have stopped them from opening the small playground. Wandsworth Council, like our politicians, are a bunch of liars.”

Battersea Adventure Playgound
Neville addressing the rally

A World to Win spoke to some of the occupiers. “This place should be kept,” said James. It has the word ‘adventure’ in the title and parents like the idea. It was built by local people and allows children to take risks in a safe environment.”

Ralph a local resident supporting the occupation said: “It is preposterous to destroy a site like this. It is proposed to bulldoze all this and replace it with the kind of thing you see outside IKEA, a flat pack off-the-shelf system where there is no adventure.”

Battersea Adventure Playgound Battersea Adventure Playgound
L: Arthur outside the one of the entrances closed on the orders of the council. R: Protesting

Arthur, of Occupy, said: “There is not much around here for teenagers. People come from all over London to play here. If it is run by a private company, all they are after is profit. We’re fighting corruption and greed, not just by the bankers, but by government and councils.  I’m here to be an activist and to be involved in community issues for as long as it takes.”

14 January 2013

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