One evening in a cold school hall, a group of parents and teachers gathered to hear Tim Gill talking about his work and ideas.
He wants our children to be allowed to take risks; his research powerfully points to the importance of children learning how to negotiate their environment. I couldn’t agree more.
I will nail my colours to the community mast: I opposed the play area on the Common, and will continue to do so. Here is the body of my letter to the council, which I use, thinly disguised as ‘James Trumpton, grumpy resident’ in my lessons on balanced reporting.
We do not live in the centre of a town. This is the edge of the Greater London area and we need to keep the countryside just as it is – as countryside. The Common is an important area for wildlife and its natural beauty should be conserved. It is enough that a golf course has been placed at the centre of the Common: we should not allow further development.
Children have played in woodland for far longer than there have been playgrounds. Trees offer wonderful play equipment, in their branches, around their roots or behind their trunks. You can see the dens that children have built in the woodland on the Common. Let children use their imaginations and make their own play environment instead of constantly babying them with modern equipment. Many primary schools now have ‘forest schools’ – wooded areas in which children can encounter nature, take risks and – heaven forbid – get dirty. If schools recognise the value of woodland for our children, why shouldn’t we?
In short, Chorleywood Common isn’t a town park. We don’t need more swings, slides or climbing frames, and there are enough cafes in the village without the need for more buildings. Just let children play as they have done for hundreds of years.
Back to the draughty hall. Tim began by asking us to close our eyes and picture where we were happiest playing when we were children. For me, it was the derelict land around the Dallow Road industrial estate in Luton, and the veldt beyond the garden fence in Southern Africa. There I learnt to deal with severe nettle stings, not to touch strange canisters, never to walk in still water where bilharzia lurked, and how to use my imagination, both on my own and with my friends.
Judging by the precautions we take with our children today, it’s amazing I’m still alive. I would only add that we are both the greatest constraint on our children, and the greatest threat. We drive our children everywhere because – and Tim Gill stressed this – drivers kill more children in this country than any other perceived threat.