New playground on its way for Mycenae House Gardens

Local Mums and Dads have been complaining on and off for years that there is a shortage of playgrounds in the Royal Standard area – the middle of Blackheath Westcombe ward and in some ways its “town centre”.

There are good playgrounds on the Cherry Orchard estate on the east side of the motorway, and an existing playground on Brook Lane (just off Kidbrooke Park Road) is being improved.

To my mind (and as father to a four-year-old, Alice, I have become something of a connoisseur of playgrounds in recent years…) one of the best playgrounds anywhere in the borough is in East Greenwich Pleasaunce, where the council and a very active friends group have made huge improvements in recent years. I managed to spend about 10 years as a child in the 1980s (6 to 16), growing up just off Westcombe Hill, without once visiting East Greenwich Pleasaunce (just half a mile away) as in those days there was only one gate into it off Chevening Road – a second gate from Halstow Road was opened about five years ago as a useful bit of planning gain from the construction of some new houses there). The playground in Greenwich Park is excellent of course, but often very, very crowded in summer.

I digress – the point is that for those living up the hill near the Royal Standard, there is quite a hike to a decent playground down Kidbrooke park Road, or over to Charlton, or down a steep hill to the Pleasaunce or the park playground at the bottom of Maze Hill. The only really local facility is a few swings on Combe Avenue.

The good news is that the council has a pot of several million for new and improved playgrounds. Several options have been considered, including an “outdoor gym” on the Heath, which was sensibly ruled out for Planning reasons. The lovely green on Vicarage Avenue is another site, but is a bit tight and putting in a decent playground there could entail removal of some shrubs or even trees.

The council’s current proposal is a new playground in the gardens of Mycenae House, where the community centre has just been improved, some new flats built, and the listed Woodlands building has been restored very well by the Greenwich Steiner School. The council is going to consult carefully with the Westcombe Society, the Vanbrugh Community Association (which runs the community centre), the Steiner School itself, and local residents of course, about the detailed plans, and also whether a new gate directly into the grounds from Mycenae Road is sensible.

It could be argued that many local families in the Westcombe Park area live in houses with gardens, and that there may be limited need for a new playground. But many others live in flats with little or no access to somewhere safe to play.

One of the great things about Westcombe Park is the fact that a complete mixture of people live there – from millionaires to single-parent families on low incomes (often living literally next door to each other). Good playgrounds, like good affordable childcare, are a great way of getting neighbours from very different backgrounds to interact and talk to each other. Census anoraks take note: the 2001 census showed that about half of all households in Blackheath Westcombe ward live in flats, not houses – a statistic that will hardly have changed in the nine years since. So it is very good news that a new playground is coming to the area, and I hope that the design, layout and location can satisfy everyone.

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