Wray Crescent plans must benefit all the community

Jonny Evans, chair, Friends of Wray Crescent, writes:

It is unfortunate that cricketers feel they have nowhere else to play their sport in Islington.

There is ample cricket provision available in North London.

There are a multitude of nearby pitches, including those in Alexandra Palace, Hackney Marshes, Hackney Downs, Crouch End, Highgate Woods, Victoria Park, and Hampstead Heath Extension. There are also pitches available in Islington, such as those at St Aloysius College and the Honourable Artillery Company Sports Ground.

Islington Gazette: Alexandra Palace has cricket facilities which could be used instead of Wray CrescentAlexandra Palace has cricket facilities which could be used instead of Wray Crescent (Image: PA Archive/PA Images)

What this means is that a claim that cricket is not playable in the local area outside of Wray Crescent is a fantasy, not a fact. What is true is that Pacific Cricket Club has not yet taken possession of its own cricket field, and this is what the current debate over the public resource that is Wray Crescent Park is all about.

Wray Crescent is the most important green space in Tollington, the second most densely populated ward in Islington. The borough has less public green space than anywhere else in the UK, which is why it has no public golf course, no public polo field, and one of the spaces allocated to the game of cricket is Wray Crescent, a park so small the council’s own insurers demanded nets were erected to protect nearby property at a cost of around £60,000.

The insurers quite rightly identified that the game requires a larger park in which to play.

In a triumph of magical thinking, Islington Council has chosen to support cricket in the park despite its size. In doing so it has ignored that Wray Crescent is the most important green space in an area with a diverse population representing multiple creeds, ethnicities and a higher proportion of women than men.

It was interesting to learn that Pacific Cricket Club has played in Wray Crescent for so long. It seems strange that in the 20 years the group claims to have done so it has built such weak relationships with the community that also uses the park. That is why I question Pacific chairman Toby Chasseaud’s claim that it is “vitally important” cricket continues to be played there. Why is it important, and who is it important too?

Is it vitally important to the approximately 2,000 (17pc) of people in the ward who are living with serious illness, for whom the park represents a chance to connect with nature on their own doorstep? Or the 1,400 elderly people for whom the park represents a chance to leave their homes. Is it of vital importance to the 810 children growing up in poverty in the area who need a place to go to meet friends to feel more human? Indeed, given that over 100 years since women got the vote there is still no women’s cricket team in Islington, is it vitally important to the 7,300 women who live in the area?

Islington Gazette: Cricket action at Hackney MarshesCricket action at Hackney Marshes (Image: Archant)

We think it’s really only important to Pacific Cricket Club and some out of touch members of Islington Council. We have already seen lots of grass roots groups begin to make use of the space, including our wonderful football teams, keep fit groups, many joggers and runners, ourselves, and, of course, the children’s cricket lessons that cause no harm to anyone.

Reflecting the club’s lack of connection with the local community, over 250 people from the local area have already signed a petition against the plans.

Nor can it have been easy to raise all the funding required (half-a-million-pound), though half is coming from our public funds and Islington council in the form of Section 106 money, cash which is meant to benefit the community. We wonder what tangible community benefit emerges from providing 22 cricketers with a place in which they can more comfortably make lunch, particularly to a neighbourhood already reeling with a post-Covid reality defined by job losses, zero hours contracts and unprecedented demand for mental health support.

Of course, we understand that for cricketers their hobby is a welcome release from the pressures of the pandemic. I myself lost my own father to the sickness so fully comprehend the hurt and upset these times have caused. I would wish such grief on no one. Our response to the misery faced by the entire community during the pandemic was to continue to maintain a welcoming presence in the park and to grow food which we donated to the local food bank. We didn’t see much of the cricket team then. They didn’t show up until after lockdown lifted last summer.

There has been no credible thought given to the complex needs of the wider community, other than branding a small, non-private space without a discreet entrance a “community room”, when one look at the plans tells you it is in fact the cricketers’ tearoom.

The primary purpose of the plan focuses solely on the needs of a sport already amply supported within a 10-minute drive.

The plan fails in any meaningful sense to deliver a multi-purpose location for the benefit of multiple sports and community groups, nor does it attempt to provide infrastructure to support a community café, which is the most requested service wanted by park users. The Friends of Wray Crescent will continue to fight for an imaginative proposal that tries to meet the far more complex needs of the entire Tollington population. This plan does not even come close to that. Please add your voice to our call, sign the petition at change.org/wray-4-all.

Consult fairly

Islington Gazette: Lambeth Council held consultations with a 'Friends of..' group about improvements to a park before drawing up plansLambeth Council held consultations with a 'Friends of..' group about improvements to a park before drawing up plans (Image: PA Archive/PA Images)

Viv Whittingham, Islington, full address supplied, writes:

Why (oh why) can’t Islington council take a leaf from Lambeth council’s book?

My family is involved in a “Friends of” group in a Lambeth park. Lambeth want to improve facilities in that park. And, guess what? Council officers are going to that park on three separate days, widely advertised, to consult with users and residents and ask them what they want, what works and what doesn’t. Yes, actually consult before plans are drawn up.

They have not asked “Friends of” to one meeting some years ago (as Islington did with Friends of Wray Crescent) and then ignore all suggestions and called it consultation. Lambeth Council is showing the way. If only Islington council officers and councillors would exercise Lambeth’s good practice, people who are signing the petition to ask that the council think again about the cricket development would not feel frustrated and disempowered.

There is still time for the council to properly consult, but dare they?