A meeting was held last Wednesday evening to discuss antisocial behaviour on Makins Recreation Ground and the skatepark. Local residents were invited to share their concerns and experiences with representatives from Thames Valley Police, Soha Housing, Henley Town Council and Nomad. The meeting, held at the 1st Henley Scout Hall on Greys Rd, concluded with a brainstorming session where attendees could put forward their suggestions for resolving the issues.
Makins Recreation Ground and the skatepark became a subject of concern at the beginning of June when reports arose of a growing antisocial behaviour problem. Incidents have included underage drinking and reports of drug use, along with multiple cases of vandalism: last month, part of the fence around the children’s playground was removed and the skatepark was sprayed with graffiti. There have also been instances of physical assault, with one 10 year old boy being punched.
Wednesday’s meeting was organised by Paula Isaac, Henley Town Councillor and Vice-Chair of the Gainsborough Residents Association. She opened the meeting by saying, “I thought it would be a really good idea to get everyone together as a community to try and come up with a practical solution to the problem.” Residents were then welcomed to voice their concerns with the representatives in attendance: Barbara Taylor, Stuart Betts and Claire Hewett from Thames Valley Police; Jo Douglas from the Neighbourhood Team at SOHA Housing; Sue Prior, Angela Face and Sarah Lane from Nomad; and Town Councillors Paula Isaac, David Eggleton, Kellie Hinton, Donna Crook and Will Hamilton.
Many residents addressed the issue of underage drinking and smoking, and particularly the use of marijuana. There were also reports of violence, verbal abuse, excessive noise at antisocial hours, graffiti, litter, dangerous driving, and lack of care for other users of the area. The various personal accounts highlighted the impact of the problem on the local community. One attendee shared the story of a dog who needed an operation on its paw after standing on broken glass in Makins Recreation Ground. Another woman, whose son was assaulted in the area, said, “I live in one of the nicest areas in Oxfordshire, and what I’m seeing and what I’m hearing is of kids walking around with knives in their socks at the skatepark. Weed isn’t really an issue to me, but I know a lot of the time it does lead to a lot harder drugs.”
Councillor Will Hamilton said, “I am really conscious of local residents and what they put up with. My concern for the moment is the late nights.” He continued, “I’m also concerned about the property of Headway next door, and what was a lovely private garden. It’s owned by the Town Council and leased to Headway, and is used for the Brain Tree group during the day. Their garden in the last few weeks has been totally ransacked.”
Barbara Taylor from Thames Valley Police stressed the importance of reporting incidents of concern to the police. Since July 2018, only 15 reported calls have been made to the police about the skatepark, all but two of which have since been resolved. Barb encouraged residents to pass on any names or photographs they have of the young people responsible for the problems. “We know there’s a drug issue up there but I think it’s a minority – probably 4 or 5 kids,” she said.
“We will act but we need the information from you guys to come to us. We can all work together.”
These sentiments were echoed by Paula, who noted that many of the reports are sent either to David Eggleton or herself, or shared on social media. “One of the big things to come from the meeting was the importance of people reporting incidents to the police,” she stated in reflection. “Barb Taylor explained that only a small number of incidents have actually been reported to the police through 101, therefore the police cannot treat it is a priority because the statistics are not there. It is vital that people call incidents in to 101 instead of reporting them on social media, the police cannot act on anything reported on Facebook etc so it is much more useful to them if people call it in.” Councillor Kellie Hinton, Chair of Recreation & Amenities, also pointed out that cases of vandalism can be reported to the Town Council and the Parks Department.
There were a number of suggestions for addressing the problems as a result of the brainstorming session. Residents put forward the ideas of installing CCTV, an increase in adult supervision, increased funding for outreach work, and educating young people about drugs and ASB through schools, college and parents. These, along with other suggestions made that evening, will be discussed by Paula Isaac during this Tuesday evening’s R&A Meeting at the Town Hall. She will also be in conversations with the relevant authorities and organisations going forward to provide help and support with the issues.
Although many of the residents at the meeting raised significant concerns, there were a few who were conscious of the positive impact of the recreation ground, and particularly of the skatepark. One mother, whose son regularly uses the park said, “That skatepark has given me my son back. He has had an awful time with anxiety. I brought him here and he found his confidence again. That place, there’s a lot of negativity around it, but what about the happy side?” She continued, “I’m up there all the time and I’ve never had one child be rude to be, say bad language to me, be rude to my son. They do smoke weed, they do – they’re children, they’re going to do it wherever and that’s the cool place to be. We all did things we probably shouldn’t have done in our time because we’re human.” She concluded by saying, “I’ve had nothing but joy from that place, it saved my son, so thank you.”
Sue Prior, from Nomad, was also cautious of demonising young people in the conversation. “We need to be careful that we don’t brand all young people as trouble makers, because the vast majority of them are great and it is a minority,” she stated. “We do need to involve young people and find out what’s making this happen and what they think some of the answers are.” Barbara Taylor agreed, adding, “They are young people trying to find their way in life and we don’t want to criminalise them; we want to help them.”
After the meeting, Paula Isaac expressed her gratitude to the residents and representatives who gave up their time for the discussion. She stated, “I would like to thank everyone who came to the meeting, especially the representatives. Also a big thank you to Dave Adamson for allowing us to use the Scout Hall to hold the meeting.”