Swanage residents’ views sought on a pocket of open land

The future of the old St Mark’s School playing field and sports court in Herston is under discussion since Swanage Town Council signed a lease to take over the land.

When the first school closed in 2014 and moved to its current location next to The Swanage School, the old school buildings were redeveloped for housing but the town council objected to the playing field being built on as well.

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Swanage Town Council has now agreed a 21 year lease with Dorset Council, the land’s owner and has started consulting with the local community on how they would like to use the site.

Map of old St Mark's school playing field

Map of old St Mark’s school playing field in Herston off Jubilee Road

The lease restricts the use of the site

As a former school playing field, the land has some legal protection from development, so the lease restricts the use as a playing field, hard play area and recreational play area for community use.

An open meeting was held on Thursday 11th November 2021 at the Emmanuel Baptist Church off Victoria Avenue, inviting the views of residents.

Swanage Town Council meeting about old St Mary's playing field

Swanage Town Council held an open meeting about old St Mark’s playing field

“We need to make the best use of a fantastic play area”

Councillor Chris Tomes, chair of Swanage Town Council’s sports, leisure and wellbeing working party, speaking at the meeting, said:

“The working party was set up to look at how best the council uses its outside spaces and facilities for the wellbeing of residents – something that has become even more important during the Covid pandemic.

“We’ve refurbished the playgrounds at the Rec and at Day’s Park and are looking at upgrading St George’s playground, as well as the redevelopment of the football club.

“We do recognise as a town council there is little open space in Herston, so we need to make the best use of a fantastic play area.”

Before the council starts spending money on improvements, it says it would like to know what locals would like.

Old St Mark's School sports court

Old St Mark’s School games court

Future options as proposed by the town council

  • Hard court area – should it be limited to clubs and societies?
  • Removal of obsolete play equipment. What should it be replaced with?
  • Open or controlled access to the area?
  • Seating, if so, where?
  • Additional planting?
  • Dogs permitted or discouraged?

Youth club would like basketball hoops

At the meeting, Kim Gallagher from the Swanage and Purbeck Development Trust said that the newly formed youth club at the adjacent Herston Village Hall, now had a waiting list.

It’s popularity meant that there was a real demand to use the hardstanding playground for basketball and other games, so basketball hoops would be welcomed. In addition, they’d really like access to the grassed area.

Open access to the playground

Residents said that they’d like open access to the playground as it was great as a play area, especially for young children. The council’s operations manager said that wasn’t possible at the moment as part of the fencing needed repairing but once that was completed, that should be an option.

The issue of dogs was raised with one resident saying that there were now lots of dogs living in the road, especially since lockdown and that there was no point in saying dogs were banned, as it probably wouldn’t work.

The suggestion was made that the area could be partitioned into a dog welcome zone and a no dog zone.

Swanage Town Council meeting about old St Mary's playing field

Speaking at the meeting were (left to right) Swanage Town Council operations manager Gail Perceval, Swanage Town Clerk Dr Martin Ayres, Councillor Chris Tomes and Swanage Town Mayor Avril Harris

Holding local events

New seating was welcomed, as was the idea of holding local events like fundraising fairs and picnics.

Anyone who wishes to contribute their ideas to the future plans for the area should contact the council with the subject heading ‘Feedback St Mark’s Playing Field’ via email admin@swanage.gov.uk

Once all the responses are collated, the working group says it will propose a plan and a budget for 2022, that will be discussed at a full council meeting.

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