Our Park - documentary and youth engagement project
For the past century, Beckenham Place park - the former mansion, land and holdings of timber merchant John Cater, has been a public golf course; one of the largest and most used of its kind in Europe. Recently [in 2019], Lewisham Council acquired the park from Bromley Council and turned it into a public green space for the first time in the land's history which, ultimately, stretches back to medieval times.
Beckenham Place Park is one of the largest parks in South East London and straddles several different areas, each with its own social culture and demographics and this meant that people who wouldn't necessarily share the same space ordinarily were coming into social contact with each other, sometimes for the first time.
One of the main and perhaps most consistent concerns raised was about the perceived antisocial and sometimes criminal behaviour of some of the park's young users.
While the team at Beckenham Place Park took these claims very seriously, they were also very aware of and sensitive to the possibility that local community perceptions of young park users may become criminalised, particularly on social media platforms. The team wanted to find out more about young people's thoughts, perceptions and use of the park and to explore their feelings of belonging.
We spoke to and engaged with park users of as many different kinds and ages as possible in order to to help gain a stronger intergenerational perspective and ultimately an understanding of peoples' roles in and usage of the park as well as their perceptions of and relationships with each other. This included park workers and volunteers, local schools, charities, community organisations, local businesses as well as police and local police cadets.
We managed to engage with many key park users - in particular some of the regular young park users who had been the subject of potential concern for some of the adult park users. We brought these park user groups together in different contexts in order to help strengthen intergenerational understanding and for people to be able to better empathise each other's use of and relationships with the park.
Young people's use of the park is as diverse and varied as the young people themselves - for them, Beckenham Place Park is a place to work, to study, to meet friends, to be with family, to escape in, to explore, to be.
The Our Park project has increased connections and cooperation within the adult care network that operate within the vicinity of the park and throughout the borough and as a result these organisations continue to work together in a more connected way in order to protect the interests and welfare of our young park users and to make sure that Beckenham Place Park remains a place that people continue to use and enjoy, to work, rest and play in.