St Austell Town Council’s Steve Skinner and a great success story
St Austell Town Council's Steve Skinner and a great success story
When I joined St Austell Town Council as Operations Manager at the tail-end of 2016, the Town Council had just negotiated with Cornwall Council what was dubbed at the time as “the largest devolution project of its kind in the country”. The services devolved to the TC included 17 parks and open spaces, 2 car parks, Public Conveniences, a Youth Centre, and an agreement to maintain over 10 miles of Highway verges. As I’m sure you can all relate to, due to a lack of investment in parks nationally, some of the sites we inherited had seen better days and required significant repairs and improvements which was a mammoth task for a small Town Council that had never previously operated any parks.
Over the next 3 years having built a small but very effective grounds maintenance team (when I joined, there were no grounds staff, we didn’t even own a mower or a pair of shears!), we had managed to replace a number of dilapidated items of park infrastructure, play equipment and safety surfacing across numerous parks, achieve South West In Bloom Pride in Parks awards year after year, and gain a reputation in the county for punching well above our weight with the resources at our disposal. None of this could have been achieved without the collective effort of the whole organisation, and I count myself very fortunate to have the incredible trust and backing of the Town Clerk and the Councillors.
Since the day I began my role as Operations Manager, it was clear that at some point investment would need to be made at Bethel Park. Situated in a densely-populated area of high-depravation with main roads running along 2 low boundary walls, the park is very visible and possessed just 4 items of barely usable play equipment which I would guess was around 20-30 years old. Over the years, we toyed with ideas ranging from a relatively small investment of around 30k to simply replace the equipment like for like, to grander schemes (for us) in the 100k+ bracket. The point I always made was that this park has a catchment area larger than any other in the town, yet the nearest “flagship” park was an almost 2 mile walk away.
Fast forward to late 2022 and we became aware that Cornwall Council were accepting applications to their Community Infrastructure Levy Fund so we immediately set about putting together a bid for funding, including public consultation on the various designs from play providers that had been drawn up. Fortunately, the Town Council was successful in its application and we were awarded 50% funding towards the project cost of £150k, the other 50% being match-funded by ourselves.
The contract was awarded to TK Play of Bideford and began in mid-June 2023. The new play area now has a fully accessible path, soft landscaping including a sensory planter, 9 new items of play equipment including a wheelchair-accessible roundabout and trampoline, and new entrance gates (there were none previously). As I write this a mere 3 weeks after its opening, the park is being used by upwards of 250 children a day and I’ve even witnessed queues forming to use the equipment. The feedback we have received from parents has been amazing. Contrast this with the fact we’d be lucky if we saw 2 children using the park on a hot summers day previously, and I think it is safe to say we have achieved something fantastic for the local community.
There is an awful lot to be negative about in our industry at the moment, but in my 18 years in parks and open spaces my motivation has always been to make these spaces better for the people that use them. It’s clear that we are all finding that this is increasingly harder to achieve, but in amongst all the doom there are still (small) victories to be had.
St Austell Town Council