Save our park! Fears keepers at historic park will be axed

Chief exec: No decisions have been taken

Thursday, 10th February — By Tom Foot

pics2022feb10 Image 2022-02-10 at 10.52.27 (2)

Petition organisers say: Save Coram’s Fields

A “SAVE Coram’s Fields” campaign has been launched after the cash-strapped charity running the historic park threatened its groundskeepers with redundancy.

Seven staff who have worked in the children-only park for generations may be laid off as part of a cost-cutting shake-up.

A restructure plan has been agreed by the board of trustees in a move that campaigners say will break a long-lasting bond with the community.

The Coram’s Fields Users Group (CFUG) say the charity has in recent years overseen “a slide into total commercialisation” and the neglect of what they consider “a national treasure”.

The petting farm has been shut down, the paddling pool has run dry, and football pitches used by children are being rented out more frequently to young professionals.

Parents said the park felt “unloved” and asked why there had been no meaningful investment despite large grants from the council and other organisations.

The charity’s boss said there was a need to restructure the workforce due to “limited financial resources”.

But parent Michelle Zini, who has set up a petition, said: “Two of the ground staff we all know really well, Noel and John. They have been there for over 20 years and the park can’t run without them.

“They know the history of the place, the families and the generations that have gone through there. The grounds staff do 101 things, too – they chase people off if they need to, [and] fix the toilets.”

She added: “Where is all the money going? They have this marquee that takes over half of the park for rental, but we feel like we don’t see any of money back into the park. The sheep and goats and rabbits, they’re all gone. It feels unloved.”

Coram’s Fields is a unique park for youngsters, sitting on land which was once part of the Foundling Hospital for homeless children.

Veljko Zizic, the CFUG secretary, said: “It has gone from being what used to be an asset controlled by the community, to an asset that has become privatised.  Despite all the commercialisation there has been no investment in the park whatsoever.”

He added: “The renting of the football pitches has been slowly ratcheted up. It’s really affecting the spirit. I do describe it as a national treasure.”

After it was part of the Foundling Hospital, the park was eventually bought by a group of investors and reopened in 1936 as a “safe haven for the children of King’s Cross, Holborn and Bloomsbury”.

Its current custodian is the Coram’s Fields and Harmsworth Memorial Playground charity which raises funds through grants, the football pitches and fundraising events.

Labour councillor Julian Fulbrook, who was a trustee at the charity for 40 years but stood down in 2019, said: “The finances cannot have been easy in the last couple of years, but the ward councillors for Holborn and Covent Garden raised over £100,000 of capital grant for them.

“I ran a fundraising 26-mile marathon over 10 days for them in the first lockdown, and when there was a security issue we raised additional amounts to employ additional temporary staff on the gate.”

Labour councillor Julian Fulbrook

The charity’s most recent accounts predict a £300,000 deficit for 2021/22 and reveal a “major challenge” in keeping the park open without the “normal levels of income”.

Chief executive Stuart Woods said: “We are aware of a petition that was started over the weekend, relating to a proposed restructure of our grounds team at Coram’s Fields.

“It is correct that we are consulting with a small number of staff within the charity.

“This is in relation to proposals to reform some of our working practices and to ensure the best use of our limited financial resources. We understand that this may cause some concern within our community.

“However, the petition makes a number of false claims, and we feel it’s important that our users have access to accurate information.”

He added: “The consultation remains in its early stages, the purpose of which is to provide the opportunity for all staff affected to give feedback on proposals that we have put forward.

“No decisions have or will be taken until we have been able to hear from everyone affected and consider their views, including listening to any alternative proposals.

“The petition claims that new roles have already been advertised. This is completely false.

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

Related Articles