There is growing anxiety among residents and park users, with some beginning to regard Wandle Park as “a no-go zone”.
As well as an alleged rape attack in the park last month, which is under police investigation, Wandle Park has become notorious as a gathering place for drug dealers, children’s play equipment has been destroyed by vandals, and last week armed gangs gathered in the park for what is suggested was some kind of “turf war”.
And now the council officer responsible for over-seeing community activities in and around the park has announced that he is to leave the job at the end of this month, with no replacement planned.
Between 2011 and 2013, Wandle Park underwent a £3.5million overhaul, partly funded by Lottery money, and part paid for by developers for housing built nearby. It has come to be used as the venue for the Croydon International Mela since 2017, it has staged annual open air theatre productions and this year hosted Croydon Pride.
But a marked increase in incidents of anti-social behaviour around the park is becoming a growing concern, especially since there are no CCTV cameras or crime-prevention lighting in the park.
Police were called into the park again on the night of September 18, with a Met helicopter involved in a search in the dark.
Police sweeps of the park in daylight hours regularly reveal signs of drug use and discarded knives and weapons.
Last week, council official Andrew Dickenson posted this message on the Friends of Wandle Park’s Facebook page, “… to announce to all that the role of Volunteer and Learning officer for Wandle Park that I have had the privilege to be for the last 2½ years is coming to an end at the end of September.
“The generous Heritage Lottery Funding that made many of the fantastic improvements to the park, the activities and then this role possible finishes and it is not possible to keep the position going.
“At this point I’d just like to say a big thank you for following the page and more importantly being a supporter of the park and events that have taken place over the whole five years which includes Tom Smith’s 2½ years previous to me and all the great work he did getting the activities programme up and started and established.
“As a Friends group we will endeavour to keep activities going in the park on a shoestring and trust that we can have your support in them, be that in attendance, help on the day or even sharing what is going on.”
In 2014, Tony Newman, the Labour leader on Croydon Council, made an election manifesto commitment to staff every significant open space in the borough with a “named park keeper”. This promise has never been kept, and Dickenson’s announcement shows that even where similar roles existed, the council is no longer managing to staff them.
Even with a dedicated council official to supervise park activities and equipment, rising levels of ASB have been taking a toll.
Vandals deliberately torched children’s swings last week, and returned the following night to set fire to the barriers placed around the area while repairs were considered.
“We used these barriers, left in the park by a contractor, to keep people out of the area,” Dickinson noted.
“I went to the park this morning and as I approached I could see two of the barriers missing. Probably thrown in the river I thought to myself.
“No, the arsonists had come back and the fifth tyre had been set alight and two of the barriers had melted. The sixth tyre is going to be removed to prevent that being set alight.”
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