Frustration as Shoreham school pupils want more outdoor play space

Parents at a Shoreham school secured £250,000 of funding for new outdoor facilities in 2017 but, more than five years on, a space still hasn’t materialised.

Quarter of a million pounds – set aside from contributions from Ropetackle North developers – ring-fenced by West Sussex County Council for use at Swiss Gardens Primary School,  remains unspent.

Swiss Gardens was chosen as the beneficiary as the closest school to the 120-home development.

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Parents, teachers, and governors turned out in number at an Adur District Council meeting on Thursday (April 7) to try and find answers.

Pupils at Swiss Gardens School in Shoreham want more outdoor play space

Headteacher Lawrence Caughlin says class expansions over the years have ‘put pressure’ on the available outdoor space.

This includes the Meads, an area of which is leased to the school for use during the school day, and small areas of concrete.

‘Inadequate’ play spaces

“When I started as headteacher at Swiss Gardens nearly 12 years ago, it became evident very quickly that the Meads was an inadequate space for the children at the school,” said Mr Caughlin.

Pupils at Swiss Gardens School in Shoreham want more outdoor play space

“It was inadequate for their social emotional needs and, most importantly, their physical health.

“We’ve just lived through a pandemic, we’re now moving into an epidemic and that epidemic is around social and emotional wellbeing for all of us.

“It is so important that the children at my school are able to access an outdoor space, year-round.”

Mr Caughlin said the school had been ‘going round in circles’ trying to get a play space delivered.

“Children continue to experience inadequate space,” he said, “This is about two councils banging their flipping heads together and doing something for them.”

During the meeting, the school community made the case for an all weather pitch and wanted to know why their children were still waiting.

One parent says the existing play areas are unsuitable for the pupils.

“Play on concrete has real consequences,” they said, “Twice my own child has been knocked over on the overcrowded concrete and been hurt badly enough that I’ve had to come and collect him.”

Others spoke of dog poo, broken glass and waterlogged areas on the Meads during winter and autumn.

Disagreement over park

One reason for the delay could be local disagreement over keeping the area as grass versus transforming it into an all weather 3G pitch.

The school favours a pitch, but some residents, including a ‘Friends Of’ group and the Shoreham Society, say this would result in the ‘loss of green space and public access’.

Following a consultation, the district council also announced a preference for grass.

Parents said they felt they ‘hadn’t been listened to’ and were dissatisfied with the consultation process.

But Angus Dunn, deputy council leader and executive member for resources, said there had been ‘a lot of opportunities’ to take part.

Mr Dunn said the district council, as the Meads landowner, was unable to alter the area unless the county council which leases the land, requests it.

“How this money is spent is for the county council to determine although usually, we would expect them to do that in consultation with the school,” he said.

“The Meads is one of our smaller open spaces, serves a variety of uses, and is enjoyed by a wide cross-section of people from the local community – many of whom have also made their views known.

“We have not been asked by the leaseholder to permit installation of an artificial surface or, in fact, to do anything to that piece of ground.”

Mr Dunn promised to contact West Sussex County Council next week to try and find a way forward.

But Alastair Reid, chair of governors at Swiss Gardens, compared the situation to a ‘decision responsibility vacuum’.

“West Sussex County Council told us that they can’t prescribe what should be done on Adur land so we are stuck in a decision responsibility vacuum,” he said.

“Does this council have a problem keeping promises to schools?”

Parent Kate Stokes says the children had been forgotten through the consultation process but Mr Dunn says ‘the whole gamut of responses were considered’.