Once upon a time there was a (very) small village in Oxfordshire called Finmere. It had a teeny tiny school, a lovely pub, and a great village hall but the children’s playground was old, rotten, secluded and dangerous. So the parents of the village got together to try and sort out somewhere safe for their children to play, but unsurprisingly there was no money available from the local council.
“Can’t we invite DIY SOS?” said one of the Mums (who has a secret crush on Nick Knowles).
“I think they only do houses,” said another Mum.
“Won’t there be a lot of competition to get DIY SOS to come?” said another.
“We will just have to do it ourselves,” they decided and Operation Playground was born.
In the absence of any government money, the group started investigating grants and were advised by the Parish Council to try the Landfill Communities Fund. The village has a landfill site on its periphery and operators are forced to put a percentage of their profits into a pot for local community projects. There was just one problem. A fire at the landfill site had forced it to close and the operator Opes had gone into administration (update here).
But the committee was not deterred and called the landfill site anyway. It transpired that once a firm has paid into the Landfill Communities Fund it cannot take the money back. Opes explained that it had paid £36,500 in the pot held by an organisation called GrantScape and they encouraged Operation Playground to apply for it.
After several hundred cups of tea and many nights spent filling in forms, Operation Playground sent in its application and a few weeks later found out that their attempt to secure the cash was successful. But there was a catch. The group had to raise 11% of the grant total in match funding within six months of the offer being made. They needed £4170 and the clock was ticking.
The parents worked very hard to convince the people of Finmere (and beyond) to part with their money. There was a village Bake-Off, a fireworks night sweet stall, Christmas carol singing, collection tins in the pub, leaflets that shamelessly begged for donations, an online funding site, contributions from local businesses and a share of the £1000 gained by collecting green tokens in Brackley’s Waitrose. The Village Hall and Playing Fields Management Committee had already raised £1300 towards a new park so by January 2017 the mission was accomplished. Operation Playground and the villagers of Finmere had raised the cash to secure the grant.
But what should the playground have in it? Operation Playground consulted with the children of the village to find out.
The results were crystal clear. The kids wanted a zip wire, a fully stocked bar, and a roundabout. There were also requests for rock climbing walls, water fountains, a swimming pool and a trampoline (OK perhaps the kids didn’t ask for a bar. But it was a popular suggestion among the parents).
After assessing several options Wicksteed were chosen to supply and fit the new park. Apart from ensuring that the village would get the best park for its budget, a big part of the decision to work with them was that they could install it quickly. The grant had to be used within 12 months of the award confirmation or Operation Playground would lose the money.
Construction began in April and by early May Finmere had a new play area. Operation Playground may subsequently have had a few beers, proseccos and vodkas at the village hall fundraising night and tried out the equipment, just to be sure that it was safe for the kids. This may or may not have been hilarious.
But the best thing about Finmere’s new playground is not the bar (it would be if there was one), or the zip wire, or the pirate ship climbing frame with cargo nets, a slide and balance beams. It is the sense of community that has been developed as neighbours that in some cases barely knew each other spent many hours together doing something to make their village better. It is the sense of collaboration that has emerged as the different village organisations such as the Parish Council, the Parochial Church Council and the Village Hall and Playing Fields Management Committee all supported the efforts of a group of parents with no experience but lots of enthusiasm. Finally it is the friendships that have been created as Operation Playground pulled together over endless glasses of wine and meetings held at the end of very long days.
As the sun sets over Finmere Village Green the laughter of children can be heard as they zip between climbing frame, tunnel, swing and slide.
And like in all good stories the villagers lived happily every after.
Finmere playground will officially open on 17th June at 3pm with afternoon tea in the park. Operation Playground is searching for an inspirational person to open it for us. Some of the committee have expressed significant interest in Brad Pitt and Nick Knowles. No need to fight over it gents. You are both welcome.
- There are too many people to thank here for their help in making the park happen. You know who you are. See you on the 17th for a celebration.