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Jim Clancey of Triangle Adventure Playground
Andy Parsons

Meet the Londoner fighting to save a much-loved Lambeth adventure playground

Written by
Danielle Goldstein

Jim Clancey has been helping to run Triangle Adventure Playground in Oval for nearly 30 years. Now, in the face of severe cuts to funding, he’s fighting to keep it open…

‘I was born in Essex, but I lived in Wapping for a long time. Then, twenty-something years ago, I moved across the river to Oval – the place I had been living was about to become multimillion-pound flats, and I probably wouldn’t have been able to afford a broom cupboard there. The place I moved into was round the corner from an adventure playground, and before too long a neighbour had got me involved. He was a lovely guy who was dedicated to the playground. Initially I was a treasurer; then when he left, I became the chair.

Triangle Adventure Playground was set up in 1957 by a wonderful lady called Marjorie Porter, who died a couple of years ago at the age of more than 100. She was the first head of the primary school next door, and liked the idea of adventure playgrounds, which back then were a crazy idea from Denmark. The notion that kids could be left and encouraged to be totally free to play and not have somebody tell them what to do – it was unusual stuff, especially in a city. Now, Triangle is the oldest adventure playground in London.

It’s the most wonderful place. We have a register of 741 children aged six to 18. Some only come over the summer, others come every evening and virtually grow up with us. There’s a fire pit and a zip line. Kids can even learn to cook. We had one kid at Triangle who liked to dig holes in the ground. When he left he ended up becoming a builder, and built a very nice room that the kids hang out in. That’s how it goes here: the children maintain a sense of ownership, even after they leave.

It’s hard for us to say exactly how we improve the lives of the children. I’d love to say that our playground helps lower the crime rate, for instance. But here’s the thing: there are properties close to us worth millions, yet Lambeth is one of the UK’s most deprived areas. We have some kids who eat with us because they don’t get much at home, and lots of parents who rely on us just to be able to go to work. We make a major difference to people’s lives. But it’s hard to present that as a fleshed-out case when we’re asking for funds.

Keeping the place running is an endless business of contacting funders. As a bare minimum, we need £60,000 a year to open every day. Council funding used to pay for about a third of our costs, but they’ve had to reduce that over the last three years. Our main drive at the minute is our ‘1,000-Donor Campaign’: we’re trying to get 1,000 people to give us £5 a month on a permanent basis. That’s two cups of coffee, and it would be all we need to provide a place for young people to grow into social adults.

Recently we had one mother bring in her 12-year-old son, who is on the autistic spectrum. The following day she came back with cake to say thank you. Her son had told her that as soon as he was on the playground, somebody said, ‘Would you like to play with me?’ Nobody had ever asked him that before. It’s stuff like that that makes Triangle so important. It’s a hub in the local community where children can learn and be safe in a place that feels like their own.’

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