Monday, 20 October 2014

Solution to skatepark problems lies a few yards away

A brand new skate park has recently opened in King George V Park, Bonnyrigg and it's a fantastic facility. If I were a few years younger or could get away with no-one seeing me (difficult as it's always packed), I'd be trying a few kickflips myself.

Unfortunately, its popularity also appears to extend to a minority who are making life a misery for those who want to enjoy themselves. There are stories of bullying, drug taking and general anti-social behaviour as well as evidence of some quite unpleasant graffiti. This culminated in a well attended community council meeting this week where we were told that a young girl had attempted suicide as a result of alleged bullying. Serious stuff, and something which clearly needs urgent action.

Discussion at the meeting centred on the need for some sort of supervision. The police cannot be expected to be there all the time, although they are making regular calls which is appreciated. Council workers likewise are helping, but again there will be long spells when they won't be there. The problems, as is to be expected, are more prevalent after dark. The main problem it seems is that the location is largely out of sight and, particularly after dark, with few passing adults, mainly the occasional folk walking their dogs.

For me, however, the solution is staring us in the face, and has been for some time. When the Bonnyrigg Centre Trust (BCT) put forward its plans to take over the former Bonnyrigg Leisure Centre, its case included two powerful arguments.

Firstly, the overarching objective of community ownership was the improved social inclusion that the growing town would benefit from. If the older kids got to know the younger kids through working together in the proposed bicycle/skateboard repair shop, or recognised them, their parents and grandparents from the cafe, wouldn't that reduce the risk of bullying?

But secondly, and on a more practical level, there would be supervision - or more accurately, a presence close by. A building lit up till ten at night, toilets, a busy cafe, people coming and going, a refuge if problems did start up - or as someone succinctly put it, there'd be a buzz about the place.

Instead, we now have a reactive approach which risks alienating those who could so easily have been part of the solution; we have extra costs and pressures placed on police and council resources; the council faces extra costs in clearing up graffiti and repairing damage; in short, we're developing a bunker mentality, desperate to avoid a wonderful new asset from becoming a social liability. This is particularly sad as the risk of costs to the council were stated as the sole reason for turning down the community bid.

This is not a debate about who should get the building - it's about why the obvious solution isn't even being looked at. The building is thankfully still standing, and so long as it is, there is hope.

It's been clear to most people that there's room enough for all interested groups to have a stake. As Bright Sparks currently plans to have part of the building open to the public for soft play and a cafe, any concerns about security appear to have been overcome. It has also been suggested that part of the building may need to be demolished to provide outdoor space for Bright Sparks, yet there is plenty of space to the side (alongside, or in place of the five-a-side pitches). Sufficient boundaries between the Bright Sparks area and the community space can easily be constructed to resolve any remaining fears over security - we have these issues in all our schools.

We know that most of the community wants a solution which accommodates Bright Sparks, Bonnyrigg Centre Trust and Bonnyrigg & Sherwood Development Trust within the building. We also know there are no logistical problems with sharing the building and no need to demolish part of it to fulfil Bright Sparks' needs. Most importantly, we all know the long term benefits shared use would bring.

So why ignore the solution which fulfils everyone's needs and aspirations? Why ignore the solution which could give our more vulnerable youngsters their skatepark back? Most of all, why are so many of our councillors ignoring the voices of those who elected them?

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