Mapledurham Playing Fields: a failure of imagination?

As we all politely wait for the EFA to deliver a verdict on where it would like to build a school in Caversham, it seems some are rallying to defend Mapledurham Playing Fields (MPF) from the threat of development.

Even though I think MPF is the best site for the school, I do also believe that the site should be protected against further development. Some may say this doesn’t make sense. I disagree.

Further development of the site after a school had been built on it would completely negate the advantages that made the site so attractive. Those who at the moment are seeking to protect MPF from any development whatsoever would naturally find support from all the stakeholders involved with the school were it to be placed on the MPF site.

MPF Accounts

MPF accounts 2010-2014

One way to save MPF from development would be to ensure it is economically viable independently of RBC as Trustees. A quick glance at the Charity Commission website shows us that the MPF charity is not earning the kind of cash needed to either build or maintain a pavilion.

A central argument of campaigners opposing a school on the playing fields is that they are regularly and extensively used by the community. Having visited the site any number of times over the past years I have of course spotted dog walkers, football players, tennis enthusiasts and joggers, but I’ve never, on a regular basis at least, seen the kind of really bustling activity at MPF that I do frequently see at Albert Road Park, for instance. Except on polling day of course.

That’s not a scientific way of looking at the issue, I agree. So I poked around for information on past and future events.

In looking for the range of activities available at MPF I’ve not been able to locate anywhere a list of activities available to residents. Sure, the Summer Fete is coming up, it’s a big date on the MPF calendar, but what else?

I would suggest that a major stumbling block to self-sufficiency for MPF is the lack of public advertisement of events. There is no timetable to be seen anywhere on the pavilion. The posters on the notice board do not actually detail events happening at the pavilion. There is no website detailing what’s going on.

In short, there is a failure of imagination happening here. There may well be a schedule of events somewhere, but if nobody can find it, it may as well not exist.

Some imagination must also be applied to what ‘recreation’ actually means to the Trust. Yes, tennis courts and football is one interpretation of that aim, and a Summer Fete is a great idea. What else though?

  1. How about organising an official fireworks display on bonfire night? Donations could be collected at various entry points. The (newly rebuilt) pavilion could be used to help serve food and drink. It may be possible to have vendors on site selling kids things that flash, small rides, an inflatable castle, and so on.
  2. Becoming integrated into already successful events would be a great way to grow attendance at MPF. With that in mind a newly rebuilt pavilion might be able to participate in Caversham Arts Trail by becoming a temporary studio or gallery holding art workshops.
  3. Christmas is a key time for one-off experiences. A skating rink on MPF might be one idea to consider, but perhaps some sort of winter-wonderland experience could be devised? If there is a school on the field, it’s not as if kids will not be in the area!

Just three ideas, all recreational. Maybe some have been done before, but if they have, I’ve not heard about them and I live close enough to MPF to be the target of any marketing that MPF events should generate.

Events like those above, marketed widely enough – in local media and on social media, as well as traditional leafleting – to attract at least the residents of Mapledurham itself, should be enough to grow the earnings of the charity. Earnings which should be fed directly into a ring-fenced trust account which Reading Borough Council has no access to directly control, but which the Committee of Management may draw upon for use by the Trust itself.

It’s time to start thinking outside of the box.

A new pavilion would massively enhance the attractiveness of MPF and the ability of the Trust to hold events like those listed above. A new school would all but guarantee the profitability of those events.

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