Strawberry Valley Playground in Leyland reopens after refurbishment - and children finally get more than a single swing to play on

A park in Leyland that was once dubbed the “forgotten playground” has been officially reopened after the revamp that residents had long dreamed of finally became a reality.

Tuesday, 15th March 2022, 4:51 pm
Updated Wednesday, 16th March 2022, 6:57 pm

The play area on Bent Lane gained notoriety after being reduced to a solitary tyre swing and a couple of basketball hoops following a decade during which failing equipment was removed and never replaced. It was last fully refurbished back in 2002.

However, a £175,000 facelift has now seen the site transformed with the creation of a junior play space, designed to complement an existing infant-age facility on nearby Ryedale Avenue.

Amongst the shiny new kit shown off during a ceremony on Tuesday afternoon was climbing and balancing equipment and a tunnel slide.

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Now it's playtime anytime at the new Strawberry Valley Playground (all images: Neil Cross)

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To mark the moment that locals have been waiting for, the wider green space in which the playground sits has now officially been given the moniker that most residents have always known it by – Strawberry Valley.

For Jo Hindle-Taylor who formed the Friends of Strawberry Valley Park group with fellow mum Nicky Peet, the unveiling is the culmination of a four-year campaign to give the community the kind of facility that it was crying out for.

She says she is particularly pleased that the vision she had for the site when she first tried to rally public support for a new playground has been realised so precisely since the gates opened earlier this month.

Getting to grips with the exciting new kit at Strawberry Valley Playground

“The whole idea was to get the children out playing and off their XBoxes and things – and that’s exactly what’s happened.

“I’ve never seen anything like it – the sheer number of kids dashing over to the park after school is lovely to see.

Parents have been saying to me that their kids don’t want to go in and be sitting in front of a screen now – and that’s just wonderful for them and their mental health, especially after the lockdowns.

“I remember four years ago just looking at the park and thinking that it could be so much more – and that the community deserved more than how it was,” recalls Jo, who was spurred into action by her own then six-year-old daughter Isabel asking why her local park consisted of little more than a swing.

Campaigning mums Nicky Peet and Jo-Hindle Taylor have seen their dream playground brought to life

South Ribble Borough Council has invested £145,000 in new equipment and surfaces for the site, with locals successfully bidding for a £30,000 grant from the Lancashire Environment Fund (LEF) to top-up the cash pot for the project.

However, the local authority has also pumped £200,000 into work to remediate the ground after it was found to have been at risk of contamination from historical use as a landfill.

That discovery was one of several setbacks for campaigners – none more so than the suggestion back in 2019 that at least part of the plot could be developed for affordable housing after the idea was briefly floated in a public consultation launched by the previous Conservative administration at the district authority.

Nicky Peet said that residents had been rewarded for never giving up – and thanked the council and the LEF for making their wishes come true.

Now there's plenty for the kids to do while they're hanging around after school

“It’s all been worth it for the smiles we have had from the children – and it’s great to see them all, of different ages, playing together.

“When you think back to that single swing and [the fact that] not all the kids were able to get a turn on it – whereas now there is all kinds for them to choose from. I think we have hit the nail on the head with the equipment we have got,” said Nicky.

She and Jo are hoping to see additional enhancements to the overall park – including new pathways and planting, a dog exercise area and nature spot – which they say will make the site a focal point for the whole community.

Speaking about the playground’s reopening, the Labour leader of South Ribble Borough Council, Paul Foster, said that it had been “a long time coming but [was] well worth the wait”.

He added: “I want to thank everyone who was involved in making this happen, particularly the Friends of Strawberry Valley Group who have worked so hard to make this amazing play area a reality.

“This will be a great asset for the community for generations to come and I’m so pleased that we have been able to bring this forward along with a raft of other play areas across the borough.”

The tunnel slide is proving popular

The authority agreed at its budget meeting last month to earmark a further £1.5m to continue its rolling programme of playground and open space upgrades which began three years ago. It has also set up a £200,000 fund for smaller facilities in the district.

WHAT’S IN A NAME?

Recent arrivals in the town – and even some longstanding Leylanders – may not know why the parkland plot off Bent Lane was known as Strawberry Valley in the first place.

Friends group co-founder Nicky Peet explains that its origins go back more than a century, to when her ancestors first arrived in what was then a rural area.

“My late grandmother told me how wild strawberries used to grow where the park is now – and the kids used to sneak out in the night with little lanterns and go along the hedgerows, picking them as a bit of a dare.

“Then, when they got to a certain age, they were given a vegetable patch for their birthday,” Nicky added.

According to the Leyland Historical Society, Strawberry Valley covered the part of Bent Lane running from the recreation ground to the junction with Turpin Green Lane and, prior to the construction of the M6 Motorway, up to Bow Lane.

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Councillors and locals gather for the grand opening, including: South Ribble Borough Council leader Paul Foster (far left), deputy leader Mick Titherington (third right) cabinet member for finance and assets Matthew Tomlinson (second right) and cabinet member for communities, social justice and wealth-building Aniela Bylinski Gelder (far right)
The kit has been designed with junior school children in mind
Scaling the heights of fun
The new Strawberry Valley Playground looks a lot more inviting.....
...than the one it replaced