This is an interview with Ron Martin, who was the founding worker on Somerville.
He along with other community workers in the area were the initial believers that adventure playgrounds were a much needed resource for our children growing up in inner cities.
In or around 1969 play schemes were run from St Catherines church (of which Ron and Rooney Martin were volunteers). The play scheme committee had the idea to apply to L.B.Lewisham for the use of a piece of derelict wasteland on the main road by the fire station.
What had been a street known as Somerville Rd.
The play schemes were run from Telegraph hill and the playground was used and run by volunteers. Ron also did some voluntary work at Pimlico adventure playground. From the success from the summer play schemes it was soon realised that this was a much-needed resource in the area.
Ron, who had his own family with four children, was working fulltime on the asphalt at the time when the committee decided if enough volunteers could be sought the playground could open after school. 5 volunteers were sought there was no hut and no cover at all. Slowly the volunteers went from 5 to 4 to 3 to 2 to 1, and Ron was on his own working during the day and volunteering in the evenings.
Next the Big wooden crate appeared and base camp was made!
Jenny Benttel who was the then community worker at the new 170 Neighborhood council decided to seek funding for a workers post. After discussion with his family Ron decided to take a half drop in his wages and pursue his career in Adventure Playgrounds. From then the playground opened 7 days a week with a volunteer working 1-day and Ron working 6. Ron said his job in those days was to find and collect materials, build the playground structures etc, try and organise a committee.
He attended daytime courses on child development and building play structures through the London Adventure Playground Association. The Playground was opened in 1971.
Loads of kids were using the playground and after about 18 months, on his own the committee was formed and Jenny Bentell from 170 got funds for a new worker.
First John Richardson who came to the playground via the playscheme. Later came Pauline Urwin who stayed 5 years.
THEN came the interviews by the committee and Ron for the 6 on the shortlist.
One of them a gorgeous tall Dutch girl who was asked various questions. Ron said he remembers one question which was ‘what do you see as your duties on the playground’ and when she answered ‘one was to clean the toilets’ he knew she was the one for him. And she has been cleaning them ever since. Ron said it was the best decision he had ever made as they were such a good team and he couldn’t have achieved anything without her. Ron was on the playground until 1993 and he and Hanneke worked together for almost 15 years.
The playground has been supported locally, continually over the years by local residents, parents community workers, many of whom still support us today. Clive Brandsbury, Una Shannon (how many of you remember the playground shop?) Rooney Martin, Bill Girdwood, Gill Slater, Janet Baker, Jean Raubould, Carol O’shea, Niky Cann and all the present committee. Ron Said ‘ As I go into my retirement very often I see adults who were kids on the playground who tell me what great times they had. This made it all worthwhile and overall a very good period in my life.
My ADVENTURE at Somerville playground
Arriving as a young art teacher, fresh from the Netherlands, for a summer holiday my first steps in playwork started at Peckham adventure playground were I did some voluntary work.
This experience decided the choice of my career, and I spent the next 35 years in play, when a job came available at Somerville for a play worker, I went for an interview at 170 community project and got the job and never looked back.
It was 1976 and the time of the New Cross fire, a colourful period with race relations high on the agenda in the local community.
The playground was a wonderful place to work, challenging but exciting, with a good staff team and support from a management committee made up of local volunteers. An oasis in the neighbourhood where all the local kids could come and play. The playground was (and still is today) run by a voluntary management committee made up of local parents.
There was granddad Fred and mums like Una, Gill and Rooney. The management committee members over the years have all turned out to be community champions, and what a great bunch of people!
Straight away I got on very well with Ron Martin, and we had a great time working together as a team, we shared the same commitment working towards a free, exciting but safe and educational adventure playground, welcome for all local children.
Ron taught me the ropes, and handed over the reins to me when he left.
It has not always been easy to keep the playground going, it was run on a shoestring budget ‘value for money’ as the council would say, but we managed to steal, beg and borrow, always on the look out for potential goodies in skips, and running a second hand shop to provide income, applying for grants, making sure we had a regular income.
As times moved on we could no longer hang on to the charity shop, progress changed the way playgrounds had to run with health and safety regulations and Ofsted requirements, but although I am pleased we managed to bring the playground up to scratch I am not the only one that remembers the early days with a certain nostalgia, and very fond memories.
My time at the playground has touched the life of more then three generations, for many kids I became their second mum.
My degree as an art teacher helped me to build an environment where kids could be creative as well as let of steam.
Many of the trainees that worked with me on the playground over the years have moved on to successful careers in play and education and then later on, some of the kids that grew up on the playground also became successful play and youth workers.
So when I finally left I was pleased Bradley was there to take over the reins from me, from a small lad growing up on Somerville he had developed into a promising young youth worker with a heart for his community, a natural leader.
He had gone through his paces with me from day one he set foot on the playground, and now it was his turn to run the playground.
The kids in New Cross are and always will be a great bunch of kids, it has been an amazing experience and privilege to watch them grow and play over the years, and to learn from them at the same time. If I had a choice I would do it all over again. I am now living back in the Netherlands, but still miss the Adventure and remained a South Londoner at heart.
Somerville is the rough ruby of the crown from New Cross Gate. You can pass by the playground without noticing it, but if you are a local you know it is a very special place and I hope that together we can safeguard it for future generations to come.
Hanneke worked on the playground for 30 years and moved back to Holland in 2010. In 2009 Hanneke received London Play’s ‘Lifetime in play in London’ award at the Houses of Parliment.
Both Ron and Hanneke will always be remembered for their dedication as well as their love for the playground and Children of New Cross.