Coram's Fields workers facing axe: ‘We’re part of community’

‘You expect this at some high-level multi-national,’ say anxious groundsmen

Tuesday, 22nd February — By Tom Foot

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Campaigners started a petition earlier this month

CORAM’S Fields grounds­keepers spoke about the bond they have nurtured with generations of parents and children over decades as they face a fight for their jobs.

The jobs of seven longstanding and dedicated staff are under threat from a cost-cutting review by the board of trustees that run the historic children’s park in Bloomsbury.

The New Journal reported last week how parents had launched a campaign to stop charity bosses rubber-stamping any redundancy plans. Some of the workers – several of whom have worked in the park for more than 20 years – are off sick or coping with anxiety for the first time, following the shock announcement last month.

They said they were fearful of speaking out publicly as talks with management are ongoing.

One said: “I’ve always loved the job because it’s out in the open and because we are part of the community here. We’ve seen children coming in with their mums and dads, and now they have children themselves. Most people who use the park have grown up with us here.”

The staff have not been given full details of the restructure being proposed by the charity, which stresses that “no decision” has yet been taken during its consultation.

But the staff say they feel in “disarray and shock” from what they felt was a “nuclear option” being proposed.

One staff member said the timing was “atrocious” and had come “just when we were seeing daylight at last” after two years of Covid pandemic, adding: “I don’t think anyone thought that working for a community charity, it would end up like this. You expect this at some high-level multi-national.”

The charity has, in a bulletin to members, criticised a petition and article in the New Journal last week, but staff say they felt “proud” to be supported.

One groundsman said: “The petition and the newspaper are helping a lot. It’s a positive thing for us when we are all so down.”

Another worker said that working in Coram’s Fields is “like another childhood for me. When I was young I would go there to relax, or with my friends. Working there for me, it had always felt like a dream come true. We love the people that come to the park. If they have any issues, they ask us to sort things out. We have experience in every area.”

The park, one of the only open spaces of its kind in the capital, is for children only and is maintained by seven groundskeepers. Once part of the Foundling Hospital, it was bought by an investment group who wanted it protected for future generations of children.

The Coram’s Fields Users Group has raised questions about where money from a series of commercial events in the park has gone, and why there has been a lack of investment in the park over many years.

The petting zoo has recently closed down. Veljko Zizic, secretary of CFUG, said: “Coram’s Fields groundsmen are immensely important. They are the true fabric of this playground. Their roles are so varied and demanding.

“They open and close, clean, maintain, paint, repair buildings and features, take care of plants, lawns and trees. Until recent closures they looked after the animals. Mums and dads uniformly rely on them. The value of this for the life of the park can not be overstated strongly enough.”

In a bulletin to its supporters this week, the charity said: “We are in the process of consulting with a small number of this team, and this is in relation to proposals to reform some of our working practices and to ensure the best use of our limited financial resources.

“No decisions have or will be taken on the proposals until we have been able to hear from everyone affected and consider their views and this includes listening to any alternative proposals that people may have.

“Disappointingly, the petition claims that new roles have already been advertised. This of course isn’t the case and won’t be until the consultation process has concluded.

“We fully understand this is a difficult time for those staff affected and we are providing as much support as we can throughout the process.”

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