What Stonebridge Adventure Playground meant to the community in Brent

Glynis and Doug Lee MBE

Glynis and Doug Lee MBE - Credit: Archant

Last week Brent Council sounded the death knell for Stonebridge Adventure Playground by axing its funding. The centre has been serving the community in one of the country’s most deprived wards since 1976. Co-founder Glynis Lee MBE has penned an open letter to the community following the council’s decision.

Stonebridge Adventure Playground will close on April 1 (pic credit: Jan Nevill)

Stonebridge Adventure Playground will close on April 1 (pic credit: Jan Nevill) - Credit: Archant

It is with heavy hearts that the Stonebridge Adventure Playground staff started to clear out the premises in preparation for its closure at the end of this month, after nearly 40 years at the heart of the Stonebridge community.

Looking back over this period we have seen a great many changes over these years. The demolition of the high-rise blocks which had been erected in the 60’s, are now replaced by rows of small terraced houses, not unlike the ones that had originally been demolished to make way for the tower blocks.

Stonebridge in the 70’s and 80’s was largely comprised of families of Afro-Caribbean, and Irish origin, with just a few Asian families whose children struggled to happily co-exist in a community in which they were a conspicuous minority.

The young people who came to the Centre in their droves when it first opened in 1976 were hungry for new experiences; they had very little in comparison with today’s youth - no mobile phones, or computers, no designer gear, and very little pocket money.

Children and staff of Stonebridge Adventure Playground battled to prevent its closure

Children and staff of Stonebridge Adventure Playground battled to prevent its closure - Credit: Archant

Instead they seemed to have an insatiable appetite for getting together in groups, whether in the Centre, in the playground, on ‘the decks’ the walkways and stairwells that linked the blocks of flats, the front-line outside the ‘candy box’ newsagents, or the recreation ground which is now the site of yet another housing development.

What we tried to achieve during these early days was as important to both the individual and the collective as it is now. We have always valued each child as an individual, and provided a range of activities designed to help them to express themselves, and reach their full potential. We also fostered a sense of collective identity by organising group activities such as sports, arts and crafts, competitions, camps, and coach trips.

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At that time there were a host of community centres, and youth clubs across the Borough, funded by the Youth and Community Service. Stonebridge was home to The Hilltop Club, the Annexe, Barry Road and Donovan Court neighbourhood project, Bridge Road had a Youth Club, and Harlesden also had several centres. There also were Adventure Playgrounds in Roundwood, South Kilburn and Church End.

NW10 is a very different place today. With the exception of Bridge Park, there are no community or leisure facilities left in the area, and although many of the original families have been rehoused in the new build, the majority of original tenants have moved away. Many of them keep in touch via social media, and have fond memories of those days.

In the 80’s the community rallied round to raise funds to extend the original Playcentre’s building. They helped us to build a suite of new rooms for Art and crafts, watching films and quieter activities.

The outside playground was developed and recently extended through a Lottery grant, which added sand and water play, plus walkways and seating. Since that time we have seen a huge increase in the number of adults who come to the Playground. For them it is the one and only facility in the area where they can safely allow their children to play, come and go at their leisure, meet other parents, have a cup of coffee and a sandwich, help out with activities, and sit down for a chat with other members of their community.

One of the most striking differences we see today, other than the sheer lack of community facilities in Stonebridge, is the huge rise in the number of disparate ethnic, cultural and religious groups that now make up the community. Even within their specific ethnic groups there are some marked differences often due to historical circumstances in their countries of origin, which have led to differences, mistrust, and segregation.

All these contrasting groups use the adventure playground and it is the one venue where they come together, in a spirit of mutual assistance, care and understanding, with the one common denominator that is their children.

During its entire lifetime rifts have not besieged the Adventure Playground, there have been no postcode wars, no riots, and no gang warfare. It has been a safe and secure haven for children, young people, and their parents to co-exist in harmony, and support one another when times have been hard.

With the support of this community, and the unflinching backing of our local paper we have mounted what we consider to be a ferocious campaign to try to save the Stonebridge Adventure Playground as a community resource.

Sadly, and for reasons still unclear to us we have been thwarted at every turn, despite securing the verbal support from all political parties. Whether it is the lack of funding, the determination to forfeit the adventure playground to Stonebridge School, and to further housing development, or something altogether more sinister…

We must now accept that the bulldozers will soon be rolling in and flattening the playground, the trees, the building and all the hopes of a happy and harmonious summer for the children of Stonebridge and beyond.

“We must accept finite disapointment but never lose infinite hope” Martin Luther King Jnr.

Glynis Lee, Stonebridge Adventure Playground manager

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