Keeping Lewisham’s parks safe: a word with Darren Budden, General Manager at Glendale Grounds Management
What effect do you think lockdown has had on parks in Lewisham? Have you noticed a surge in usage?
Completely. We’ve essentially had all the school holidays rolled into one day since March. We’ve been working hard to make parks and public spaces accessible for years, we want as many people to use the parks as possible but we’ve been a victim of our own success recently!
The fact people that more people are at home, either furloughed or working from home, and the schools shutting, has all contributed to more people visiting parks.
How has the parks team had to adapt?
I think the efforts of the team have been very much underrated.
We have been re-securing playground equipment, outdoors gyms and other facilities as well as trying to educate people. In the early days, there was some denial about the seriousness of COVID-19 so we spent a lot of time educating people by showing them graphs etc. Not enforcement, just in a friendly way, but we found that most people were really receptive. We did end up reporting breaches to police who did support us in parks. If we called them, they would then come and assist.
The Glendale Team reacted very quickly in protecting staff, not just with training but by giving them personal protective equipment (PPE), making sure there is only one person in a van at a time and staggering their start and finish times. We were also very clear on how to approach members of the public in a safe way. There has been a lot of internal safety bulletins regarding our safety, including an online training module dedicated to COVID-19.
We have had to adapt in how we work with Lewisham Council. We were sometimes asked to down tools immediately to act on decisions as soon as they were made. This was especially true when reopening toilets and the playgrounds. It’s one thing making the decision but we are the ones who have to organise staff rotas and plan so these facilities can reopen safely.
When playgrounds were reopened, we had to double up our inspections for that week just to make sure they could reopen safely.
How do you keep safe in the park?
It’s vital to maintain adequate distance from each other where possible. I maintain a 2m distance from other park users, colleagues or people I am meeting. A face covering, e.g. a snood, is worn where 2m distance is not possible.If I’m meeting someone then most of the brief will have been done offsite to reduce time spent physically meeting. I carry a hand sanitiser that is regularly used if having to touch anything. I also have a surface sanitiser spray that is used if I touch anything.
I always wash my hands before entering my car and don’t have any other passengers. I also wipe down any contact points daily, e.g door handles, steering wheel, etc and carry wipes and cleaning materials in the car.
What extra measures have been put in place in parks?
We installed prominent signage reminding people to maintain a safe distance and to regularly wash their hands.
Every park had a banner which I think worked. We also put posters on play areas and bins politely asking people to take their litter home. We had path markers at entrances to parks to act as a visual reminder of social distancing.
The staff have been fantastic. Personally, I remember that when I rang a member of the parks security team, in the five minutes that we were on the phone for, he must have spoken to twenty people.
Every credit goes to the guys and gals on the ground because they are the ones who everyday have put themselves forward when they have their own worries. They are mentally and physically exhausted. Their usual eight week window of things being tough in the school holidays has been stretched to twenty weeks. I think they all deserve a long holiday after this!