Through a great effort of some of our villagers, we are proud to have a remarkable Recreation Ground, complete with a fabulous Playground, enjoyed by children and young people.  We also have a large open space for ball games.  In the corner is situated our Village Shop – making it an ideal location for children to play and parents to enjoy a cup of tea, coffee or soft drink.  After the play, ice cream from the Shop can also be on the agenda.

Please contact Ann Powell (01491 872 965 or e-mail if you or your group would like to hire the Recreation Ground.

Statement on the Closure of the Play Equipment

Why isn’t South Stoke playground reopening?

South Stoke playground has been officially closed since the beginning of lockdown in late March and signs saying so have been prominently displayed.

More recently notices on table-tops, on the fences and on equipment as well as black/yellow hazard tape have been used on several occasions to try to get this message across.

Sadly, most of the signs and tape have been removed within a few days of installation and left strewn across the playground or removed completely.

The Amenities Charity Trustees would like nothing more than to be able to open the playground equipment, but at this time, with the current government guidance and communication from insurers, we don’t yet have a solution.

The reason the play equipment is not open, stated simply, is because current government guidance is clear ONLY if children are accompanied by supervising adults.  By definition, and the appropriate British standard for play equipment areas, they are designed to be safe for unaccompanied / unsupervised play.  This puts the onus on those responsible for such facilities (often, but not always, Parish or Town councils) to decide if the play equipment is ‘safe’, though the definition of ‘safe’ with regard to unaccompanied children is lacking in all the government guidance – and of course, there is no supporting funding either.

But didn’t the Government say it was okay to re-open the playgrounds?

On 23rd June the Prime Minister announced that from Saturday 4th July, “…pubs, restaurants and hairdressers will be able to reopen, providing they adhere to COVID Secure guidelines.”  He went on to say “…some leisure facilities and tourist attractions may also reopen, if they can do so safely – this includes outdoor gyms and playgrounds…”.  The phrase ‘if they can do so safely is the catch.

From research just over half of Parish and Town councils reopened their outdoor play areas on 4th July. This survey, commissioned by the Society of Local Council Clerks of 5,000 towns and parishes, found though that nearly 50% were still uncertain how to adhere to the Government’s social distancing and hygiene guidelines.

The Amenities Charity, in consultation with both South Stoke Parish Council (who contacted our joint insurers on our behalf) and Goring Parish Council, chose not to reopen, though that decision to keep the playground closed was not an easy one.

It would have been far easier to succumb to the vocal parents’ and grandparents’ displeasure, do some risk assessments, create some new rules, post a bunch of signs, establish a cleaning routine and open things up. But in reality, it is much more complex than that.

The primary problem lies in the intent that the playgrounds be a safe, unaccompanied space for children over 3 years of age, not requiring parent/guardian involvement in the play experience.

The government guidance for Covid-19 reopening is completely focused on accompanied/supervised visits. It is absolutely clear that a good deal of usage of South Stoke, and of neighbouring playgrounds, is without adult supervision.

To help us work through the issues, we engaged with our insurers and attempted to do the required risk assessments. In those assessments, we keep getting stuck on how we would properly address the issue of unaccompanied children using the equipment.

We asked our insurers if we could simply put up appropriate signage that says: ‘All children must be accompanied by a responsible adult’, and we were informed that a sign would not reduce our liability if an unaccompanied child used the play equipment – and it may actually increase our liability. In no way does a sign relinquish our duty of care. As children cannot legally accept risk until they are between 13-16yrs (depending on the circumstances), a sign is therefore irrelevant

whether it is asking for the users to clean the equipment before and after use, not to clean the equipment as it has been treated for safety purposes, or whether it states that all users must be accompanied.

There must be some other solution, aren’t their special cleaning agents or other hygiene options?

Some long-lasting chemicals/materials that could be applied to the equipment were looked at, and one found that looked promising.  It would need to be applied every 21 days, but the equipment MUST NOT be cleaned in-between applications.  Human behaviours are hard to modify and it was decided if we put up a sign asking for users to NOT CLEAN the equipment, there is still a risk that they clean the equipment before or after use anyway (as that is a requirement with some other play equipment locations), and then we would need to monitor to ensure that no one cleaned between the treatments.  We know of a local facility which has treated its equipment, and they have staff onsite observing the users and ensuring that equipment is not cleaned to allow the treatment to work.  The Amenities Charity does not have the resource to provide onsite staff during all the usage times.  The treatment is also quite pricey. Considering all these factors treating the equipment was not pursued further.

Surely it is the users’ responsibility; it’s the parents’ responsibility – isn’t it?

Though that may seem logical, it is not necessarily true – especially if the users are children.  In other words, if the playgrounds were opened and people didn’t follow the rules, the Amenities Charity Trustees would still be responsible and may be liable for any harm if it could not be shown that procedures were in place to enforce the rules.

Why are other local playgrounds open, but not South Stoke?

The decision to open or not is for individual management teams or councils to take.  The Amenities Charity has assessed the play equipment, taking into account all the information available to us.  If other parishes or towns are relying on signage to parents/guardians to ensure adherence to hygiene and social distancing, that would, in our view, be problematic.  SODC legal department was asked if they could offer help / alternate options. The advice was to do our own assessment, on the advice of our insurers and other information available to us, which we have done.  Equally, there have been reported instances in local communities of unaccompanied children using equipment inappropriately, and disregarding signage – creating serious concerns for the authorities responsible for those spaces.

How long is this going to go on?

We don’t know. We are continuing to try to find options that would satisfy the identified risk mitigation. We are hoping that the government will address the issue of unaccompanied children, but we are not certain if this is even being considered.  We are also open to suggestions as to ways forward.

The Trustees absolutely understand that keeping the play equipment closed is not at all an ideal solution, but it is less bad than unaccompanied children being harmed or unknowingly exposed to the coronavirus and unintentionally spreading it to their households.

Other non-COVID Reasons for an extended closure

All play equipment areas must be inspected by RoSPA each year.  Our inspection was recently completed and flagged up a number of remedial works which must be completed.  We have sought quotes from maintenance companies and will be instructing one to complete a more detailed inspection of the area and ask them to quote for the remedial works.

We ask that your understanding be given on these matters.  Many parishes and towns are commissioning these additional inspections and remedial works whilst there is the opportunity due to the extended closures. It is therefore hard to get a booking for just the detailed inspections to be done. The Amenities Charity wants to be ready for when (or if) the additional guidance is supplied regarding unaccompanied children.

Amenities Charity Trustees
September 2020