The town centre must become more child-friendly. Only if families have reasons to come here that appeal to their children, not just to parents’ need to work or shop, will it become important in their lives.

The Council is consulting us on projects to help regenerate the Barnet High Street area. Our web post on 1 February described how the Barnet Society has responded to the Community Plan by agreeing five priorities: something old, something new, something for children, something for young people and something green.

Here, we invite you to consider the four potential projects in the Community Plan that would support something for children:

  • Play Masterplan
  • Walking & Cycling Quiet Routes
  • Safer Road Junctions
  • Family Hub

It’s important to let the Council know that you support at least one of these projects in the Plan here. Below, we explain why they are worth considering in more detail.

Much is being made about the damaging – and potentially long-lasting – consequences of Covid-19 for children not able to go to school. Less is said about their loss of opportunities to play outdoors and to socialise with other children and adults across the generations. Yet educational research and practice has proved the fundamental importance to children’s development of interaction with people and the environment from the earliest years. Four projects in the Plan offers a chance (once lockdown ends) to replace at least some of this loss.

The Play Masterplan envisages not only improvements to Old Courthouse Recreation Ground (or Park), but also a plan for play facilities in other parts of the town centre. The Barnet Society strongly supports both aspects of this project.

Although the Park already has a playground, it’s of the conventional ‘Kit-Fence-Carpet’ kind: an enjoyable but artificial enclosure with expensive equipment and safety surfacing that limits, instead of expanding, children’s choices. It has its place, but the settings that stimulate children more, physically and imaginatively, are those that offer a wide range of materials – ideally natural – with which they can experiment and interact. Examples are discovery areas, sensory gardens, adventure playgrounds and forest schools that have flourished in places like Scandinavia, and which are increasingly used by the best UK nurseries and schools.

There are opportunities within the Park – and in other open spaces around the High Street – to develop new types of play-space, more varied and appropriate to children of different ages and abilities. Preferably they would also be close to the places adults visit, and be an incentive to bring children with them into the town centre – which, if it is attractive and safe, is after all another important learning experience for children.

Just as young or vulnerable children need their own space, so the Plan should include provisions for older children and young teens in the form of a more challenging adventure/nature playground. This should preferably be linked to a youth club with opportunities for enterprise, work experience, extra-curricular lessons for art and the like, as there is currently nothing in the town centre for them to do or anywhere for them to go.

In order for children and families to reach the town centre, of course, pleasant Walking & Cycling Quiet Routes would make their journey healthier and more enjoyable. Only a couple of generations ago, Meadway was a country lane much used by residents of New Barnet walking to market. Today, a less-travelled but lovelier route can be followed across King George’s Field, and with an all-weather path it would be practicable and fun for children.

High Barnet also needs better provision for cyclists. (As one myself, I speak with feeling!) It should not be too difficult or costly to construct a separate cycleway parallel to the A1000 up Barnet Hill, under the canopy of ‘Lee’s Trees’. Once at the top of the hill, cycling is fairly easy, especially on the side roads. But in places such as Hadley Green and Common new cycleways would be more pleasurable, and enable younger cyclists to acquire confidence.

For children, as well as for pedestrians and cyclists of all ages, Safer Road Junctions would be an advantage. We know, from the success of the recent High Street pavement widening, that pedestrian crossings can be narrowed without significant detriment to traffic.

Something similar could be done, for example at the High Street/Wood Street junction. Judith Clouston wrote more about this in her recent post on something old about the need to improve the appearance and safety of this area – an idea that The Barnet Society has been pushing for many years.

The town centre isn’t exactly short of cafés, but a Family Hub would provide one with a difference: a place on or close to the High Street specifically for parents or carers with kids, offering activities as well as refreshments. We have plenty of empty shop and business premises, some of which would surely be suitable. Even better would be if the Family Hub were to be linked to one of the new workspace initiatives described by Gail Laser in another recent post on something new.

The Society would also like to hear how you rate these ideas. If you’re a member, we’ve already written to you, so email us at the address in the letter. If you aren’t a member, please contact us via the comment box below – and consider joining us!