Pay to play at our local parks? No thank you

Councils may be desperate for money, but charging children to play can't be right.

Pay to play at our local parks? No thank you

When I first heard that some councils were thinking of introducing charges to use play facilities at parks, I thought it was a joke.

Now that two different London boroughs have admitted that they are at least considering charging kids to play, I’m not laughing.

On Ready for Ten, our Parents for Playgrounds initiative has given communities the chance to win £15,000 to makeover their local play facilities. The response was overwhelming and demonstrated just how passionately so many of us believe in good quality playgrounds that are free for everyone to use.

Hitting poorer families hardest

What really upsets me about these charging plans is that it’s the kids who need facilities like this the most who will lose out. Children who may not have a garden at home to play in and whose parents rely on local parks for days out.

£2.50 a time isn’t a small amount of money, particularly if you have two or more children. Most families would be looking at a minimum of £5 per play session.

Children need exciting and safe places to play, particularly as they get older.  I love to see older children and teens enjoying themselves on playgrounds where there are suitable facilities.

Are children old to enough to go to a park on their own actually going to pay £2.50 to burn off their energy on a playground? Of course not, they are going to hang around other areas of the park. Then, no doubt, people will complain that they are being a nuisance.

Keeping our kids fit

What about the fight against childhood obesity? Linda wrote about the role of parks in keeping kids fit when planned new play areas were axed last year.

Adventure playgrounds are great for keeping kids fit without them even realising it. Good play facilities where children can spend long afternoons at the weekends, are a great way of ensuring their future health and fitness. If these facilities are to become something that parents have to budget for, they will be used far less.

Popularity is a problem?

Currently, Wandsworth council only plan to charge at weekends, the argument being that at these times half of the children using the facilities come from outside the borough.

Doesn’t this mean that poorer Wandsworth children might end up using facilities in neighbouring boroughs at weekends? What happens if all boroughs start introducing similar charges on the same basis?

Perhaps the council should see all these visitors as an opportunity rather than a burden.

Only the beginning?

I can’t help feeling that once charges have been introduced it will be much easier to gradually start charging at other times and for other services. No doubt other cash strapped councils will also try to introduce such charges in their areas if they think they can get away with it.

What do you think?

Would you be happy if your council started charging for some of its play facilities?

More support for children's play 

The winners of our Parents for Playgrounds bursaries

Ursula sticks up for play

Our Skillscape features more than 1,000 places to play and enjoy

Patsy Kensit tells us why free playgrounds were so important to her


  • Linda


    Linda Jones, Editor

    02 June, 2011

    Thanks for putting into words what so many people will be feeling Kath, I find it pretty unbelievable that this should be seen as a sound way to raise money.

  • Picture?type=square
    Deborah Offord

    02 June, 2011

    i think we should not have to pay for the kids to play in the park doesnt the council get enough money and the government they should do more for children not take everything away or pay for things they should get a lot of things free up until they are a cetain age to go to work

  • Parklover


    Kath Horwill

    02 June, 2011

    Hi Deborah, thanks for commenting.
    The council will argue that they have had their budget massively reduced by central government.
    However, I agree with you - it's not something that should have to be paid for. They are play facilities installed and maintained using public money. Asking local families to start paying for a playground in a public park just isn't right!

  • Frugalfamily
    c bailey

    05 June, 2011

    Thats ridiculous, I take mine to the park all the time and I certainly wouldn't pay for them to go if it was £2.50 each. That's £5.00 a visit which could work out at £60 a month for three visits a week.

  • Small_blank

    06 June, 2011

    It's not right - parks are public open spaces to be enjoyed and should be maintained by taxpayer's money already given to the council, shouldn't they? Perhaps they could make cutbacks by stopping those leaf blowers that seem to be about everywhere and allocate funds more sensibly

  • Parklover


    Kath Horwill

    07 June, 2011

    Wandsworth council are currently only planning to charge at weekends, however that would still add up to a fair amount per month if you went every weekend.
    Julia, I agree. Parks are public open spaces, and when parts of them are used to build children's play areas, it is surely on the understanding that this space remains free for all to use. To start chargin for it down the line seems very wrong.

  • Picture?type=square
    Rachel Nixon

    15 June, 2011

    I know the Battersea Adventure playground very well. I used it as a child and now take my own kids there (one of whom is disabled). It is in one of the most deprived areas in the country and the people who need it most simply will not be able to afford to use it. And, with Wandsworth's track record, I don't believe it will be long before they'll be charging for it every day. Utterly cynical & wrong IMO.

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