Popular children’s playground faces closure as council pulls funds

One of Brixton’s most popular playgrounds faces closure after the council scrapped all funding for the park.

Papa’s Park in Pulross Road serves more than 2,000 children and has been run by volunteers since 1995, with a playground, cafe, community centre and basketball court all under threat.

Without an immediate cash injection of £25,000 to maintain the park and replace some of the ageing equipment, the playground could be forced to close its gates within a year, campaigners warn.

The playground is on the east side of Brixton Road, with the next nearest playground in Max Roach Park to the west.

Parents have expressed concern that if Papa’s was to close, they would need to get young children across one of the busiest and most polluted roads in London to the nearest available playground.

Campaigners have drawn up plans to make the site economically viable, by transforming the basketball court and community centre, and using revenues from renting out the space to local groups to make it self-sufficient.

Papa’s committee of volunteers have also written to the council urging them to release some of the funds collected from Squire and Partners, which is completing the transformation of a large architectural practice and retail development in Ferndale Road.

Under the Community Infrastructure Levy, developers must pay Lambeth council a set fee for local projects and regeneration of the area, but the money will not be released until at least 2018 – by which point Papa’s could be forced to shut.

Jacquie Dyer, co-chairwoman of the Papa’s Park committee, said: “With all the talk of gentrification in the area in recent years, Papa’s Park is one of the few places in Brixton where families from all backgrounds can mingle and relax.

“Local residents fought for the land to be used for recreational use rather than being developed, and the sports pitch became the original home of the now world-famous Brixton Topcats.  It is such a special place.

“We urge the council to release the funds received from Squire and Partners now, because, without the cash, Papa’s Park will have no choice but to close. This playground has been the beating heart of the area for more than 20 years, with families coming from all over Brixton, Clapham and Stockwell to use the facilities.

“Without it, it will be another bitter blow to maintaining this thriving community. “We also need written reassurance from Lambeth that there are no longer-term plans to turn this much-needed open space in an otherwise busy area into another set of faceless flats that no-one in the local area will be able to afford.”

Rachael Neville, a local mother of two boys, aged two and four, said: “Papa’s Park has been a lifeline for me and my family, especially when my boys were babies and I needed to get out of the house to deal with the isolation of early parenthood.

“It really saved my mental health. Now my eldest child is at Stockwell School, it’s the main place he wants to head after school with his classmates to unwind and have fun.

“I meet so many new mums and dads there, and I fear that if Papa’s was to go, it would tear apart one of the few remaining truly community-led parts of the area.”

Residents fear the council could be forcing the playground to fail so that it can sell off the highly lucrative land to property developers.

Councillors have previously said this could be an option, and a lease on the land, which is currently controlled by Papa’s Park’s committee, runs out in just eight years.

But if the main play equipment is not replaced within the next year, the park will be forced to close outright for safety reasons. This has left the park’s volunteers struggling to raise the £25,000 required in time.

The committee is relying on donations and fundraising drives, but admits this does not go near enough to making up the shortfall once the additional annual maintenance costs are factored in.

Up until last year, Lambeth council gave Papa’s Park a grant of £20,000 a year for maintenance of the playground, cafe and community space. But this ended in 2016 as council bosses were told to rein in spending.

Eventually, the committee wants to raise £500,000 to fund a complete overhaul of the site, including bringing the basketball court up to a professional level, and building a new community centre, with multiple spaces for use by local organisations.

The current hall lacks central heating and so cannot be hired out all year round. Despite this, it is in demand as a meeting point for local charities and political parties, and hosts a range of art, language, music and yoga classes.

Jacquie Dyer said: “As rents spiral in Brixton, demand for low cost space is growing, and we know many community organisations who would benefit from access to a new hall.

“In the long-term, our plans ensure that Papa’s Park survives for many future generations. We just need to cross the first and biggest hurdle – immediate repairs and maintenance.

“As well as urging the council to help us, we are calling on all those who love Papa’s to vote for us in the Aviva Community Fund.

“We have the chance to win £25,000 which would enable us to keep Papa’s Park open whilst we fundraise for the remainder of the work that will secure the park’s long-term future.”

Cllr Jane Pickard, cabinet member for families and young people, said: “The council is committed to working with Papa’s to support their ideas to make the park sustainable in the long-term at what we recognise is a very difficult time for all voluntary sector organisations.

“The site is one of several independently run playgrounds which are on council land and benefited from council funding in the past. “Due to huge cuts in our funding from government, we are encouraging our voluntary and community sector tenants to develop sustainability plans.”

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