The Parish Council wrote to the primary school, Governors and Smile Learning Trust on 27th November indicating its willingness to pursue a dialogue over community access to the school playing field, including potential funding to address key issues. The letter was as follows:
The very existence of West Hill Parish Council arose from a desire by the people of West Hill, evidenced by a majority voting in favour, for self determination, more influence over matters which affect them, and an end to detrimental decisions being imposed on them by others.
The Council believes strongly that all stakeholders in the community, whether public or private, have a duty to promote well-being and a sense of community, in addition to their prime purpose. This is doubly important where the public purse finances, or contributes to, their funding.
The Council sincerely regrets the adversarial situation, which has arisen in relation to re-establishing community access to the school playing field. We are writing, in good faith albeit in contravention of the wishes of the Smile Learning Trust, to try again to establish a dialogue on this important issue for the good of the people of West Hill.
From its inception, the Council has viewed the provision of accessible open space as a priority and has begun setting aside significant sums from its precept in order to be able to pursue this objective.
We are mindful of the epidemic proportions of the obesity problem and its consequence, diabetes. Recent surveys indicate that, on average, almost 50% of children are overweight, obese or severely obese when they leave primary school, and lack of exercise is a major contributing factor. Only a tiny percentage of children (5.5% of boys, 1.2% of girls) are getting the recommended one hour of exercise daily.
It is clear that the playing field is sadly underutilised, even in school hours. The application for grant funding last year, for drainage, indicates one area where the Council could assist. However, we find it difficult to agree to making public funds, for which we are accountable, available for the limited benefit it would bring if usage was restricted to pupils for an hour or two a week in term time.
We also remain ready to bring significant funding to bear in relation to security (fences, lights, CCTV); rectifying damage, addressing litter, in order to secure the re-admission of the community to the field, as was the case for over 30 years.
By way of example, should agreement be reached and the council sets aside its normal grant restrictions for this vital project, the cost of the drainage scheme (just under £10,000 as applied for last year) would be comfortably within its capabilities.
The Council would like to encourage better use of the field by the school as well as the community. This could include assistance with storage of outdoor footwear, clothing and cleaning. We would also like to explore the organisation of outdoor activities in the holidays or at weekends, without too much formality or the administrative burden of prior booking.
West Hill is a quiet, rural village and is virtually crime free. Turning the school into a fortress is not the answer. We suspect that the publicity given to vandalism, following the Council’s prompting to report it to the police, will have as much effect as erecting barbed wire round the Forest School.
There are many examples where school facilities are shared; the Multi Use Games Area in Ilminster is on school property and is open to the public when not in use by the school; many public schools open their sports fields and athletics tracks to the public.
We would like to put time consuming, legal arguments and publicity campaigns behind us and engage with the school authorities to bring back into being the dream of the founding fathers of our unique school/village hall joint venture. The Council, the Governors, the Smile Learning Trust and the PTFA should be working together for the good of all in West Hill and the Council remains ready to engage.