Greatfields Park (Green Flag)

London Borough of Barking and Dagenham

Greatfields Park, even by the admission of staff at Barking and Dagenham, is nothing special. According to park development officer Alex Farris it is simply a "well-designed, traditional, pleasant park". However, the wide range of the activities organised by the park management has ensured a high level of community involvement and has helped the park become a vital centre of local life.

Farris explains: "We’re not looking to develop the park or grounds. And we don’t want to put in equipment, just for the sake of it. We want initiatives that will be genuinely appreciated by the local people."
The park has been designated by the council as a strategic park. This means that meeting the needs of the users is viewed as a priority. Last year, as part of an Art in the Park project, children from local schools worked closely with professional artists doing workshops. They prepared a design for a structure and the children made models of what they wanted. This was then used as a blueprint for a living willow sculpture growing around a steel frame. "You can sit on it and use it. It’s become a popular facility,’ says Farris. He points out that the structure is also used to teach children about biodiversity.

Over the next year, children will design and build their own adventure playground. The structure will be made out of wood and rope. Craftsmen will be on hand to help with the technical aspects of the building work. Before it is used, the structure will be inspected by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA). At least part of the structure will be left as a permanent feature of the park. "We’ve done this before in a couple of parks," says Farris. "It was very successful." He expects that the structures will be used by smaller children as climbing frames and by teenage children as a place to hang out.

Surprisingly, the park does not have a friends group. "We tried to start one, but there was never enough commitment among local people to keep it going," says Farris.
The park employs its own community ranger. Steven Philp has now been in the post for five months. His job is to make himself accessible, tidy the place and organise activities. He explains: "We have an awful lot on. We have mini-beast hunts (looking for bugs and small animals), Rangers’ Rambles and music shows. I also work with local schools, telling teachers how to get the most out of the park." He has no shortage of plans: "I’m currently trying to get some movable goal posts because the children want to play more football. We’re also trying to get sponsorship for a wildflower garden; this would be a great opportunity for volunteer groups to get involved."

But part of the job is just to provide a reassuring presence. Philp adds: "I wear a blue T-shirt and khaki trousers and do my best to be approachable. As people get to know me, they feel safer using the park."

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