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How a council and community partnership delivered a new heart for Hartham

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Hartham play area. Credit: East Hertfordshire District Council

Discover Hartham Common’s bustling atmosphere, where investment in a new play area now attracts people of all ages to create a destination park. A successful crowdfunding campaign and improved council-community relations led to this vibrant hub, showcasing a new community engagement and funding model for others to emulate.

Projects aims

Hartham Common is a popular green space near to Hertford town centre. It has provided the community with a place to play, meet, exercise and enjoy for over 1,000 years. As Hertford’s destination open space, it also holds strategic importance by forming a green finger that connects the town centre with the countryside. However, the play park itself was uneven, outdated and too small to meet the needs of a growing community. Whilst it was earmarked for an upgrade, council budgets would only go so far. As anyone working in local government will know, this had not gone unnoticed by the local community who rallied together to form a group called ‘The Hertford Playground Alliance’ as a united voice to push for change. Together with the council, a project was developed to:

1) Design a fully inclusive new play area that encourages people to gather and connect but that also complements its setting in the historic park.

2) Harness community and private sector support to find new funding streams and deliver a bigger, better facility than would be possible with council budgets alone.

3) Create a sense of community ownership and care for the area, reducing anti-social behaviour, littering and vandalism.

4) Contribute to the council’s wider corporate priority to ‘enable our communities.

A green field with a few playground obstacles. Hartham play area before renovations in East Hertfordshire.
Hartham play area before renovations. Credit: East Hertfordshire District Council

How we met our aims

1) The design process involved the community from the outset. The Hertford Playground Alliance visited the council over 15 times to essentially co-design the facility and feed into the whole process. We also held a community engagement event ahead of public consultation on the designs.

We made it clear we wanted to speak to everyone in the community, not just families who would use the play park most; it was important the park was an asset for everyone. We used the Hertford Playground Alliance to reach out to other community groups and feedback to us.

2) Together with the Playground Alliance, we took the innovative step of running a crowdfunding campaign. It received a hugely positive response, raising £28,505 in 42 days – enough to help fund a standout piece of climbing equipment. The community support also helped us to secure an additional £50k grant from the private sector, which proved invaluable when developing designs and delivering meaningful community engagement.

3) To develop a stake in the new play area among as many residents from the community as possible, we also hosted a hedge planting day. Attended by hundreds of people, this helped to build ownership of the area. We have not seen any pieces of equipment vandalised, and littering, whilst not eradicated completely, is much improved, even on busy summer days.

4) We’ve enabled our community to help us deliver a new facility that will create new memories for generations to come. We were approached by both Hertfordshire County Council and the Hertford Civic Society to run sessions for officers on setting up and delivering a successful Crowd Funding campaign.

The approach

By working very closely with our local residents, we delivered a 330m2 new play area in eight months despite several lockdowns, virtual working and supply chain issues. It now attracts people from all around Hertfordshire whilst still meeting the needs of local residents. It features:

  •  Inspiration from the rivers and woodland in the park.
  • 4 park benches and 4 wheelchair friendly picnic tables for fun, family days out.
  • 3 different types of swing units, a wheelchair accessible roundabout, large sandpit and climbing frame.
  • Ramps to allow wheelchairs and less able bodied people to access the sandpit and a platform over the sandpit that allows children in wheelchairs to interact with and play with children without needing to get into the sandpit themselves.
The Hertford Playground Alliance with council officers and Members. Credit East Hertfordshire Council
The Hertford Playground Alliance with council officers and Members. Credit East Hertfordshire District Council

A new heart for Hartham

Full engagement of local people in the design and funding of the playground is borne out in the feedback, which has been wholly positive:

“The change is amazing and they have really put parents’ ideas into the park.” – C.Smith

“The design is well thought out and makes the most of the space available. We love it!!” – H. Marsh

“Amazing vision and result” – M. Keen

“A wonderful atmosphere and felt so spacious” – S. Taylor

The council went to great lengths to connect with the community on this project and to design the play area around our needs. They listened carefully at every stage and understood how our links and involvement would encourage greater engagement from different parts of the Hertford community. We couldn’t be prouder of what we all achieved together; an outstanding new facility that will improve the lives of local people for generations to come.” – Hertford Playground Alliance

The project has given the council a new blueprint for community engagement and fundraising by showing what can be achieved when you include the community as equal partners with a pivotal say in the design. We believe the success of the crowd funding campaign demonstrated how participation and involvement can be amplified when the council spend time and effort to foster mutual trust and respect. With growing pressure on council resources, we will be replicating this approach across other projects and will continue to share what we learned with others in the public sector.

At LGIU, we’re always looking to showcase the work of local government to inspire others! Want to share an example of your own local projects and best practice? Submit your story here or get in touch



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