The battle for Bicclescombe Park

If you know Ilfracombe, you may know Bicclescombe Park, a delightfully peaceful haven hidden towards the Score Valley. With a mix of well-maintained lawns and flower beds, an old corn mill (now housing tea rooms) and millstreams, tennis courts, a boating lake, duck pond and children’s play area, it’s a lovely place for a relaxing walk in all weathers. The gardeners do a magnificent job keeping the park immaculate and there is a user group chaired by the council’s park department.

This morning as I walked through the park, I noticed that one of the wooden benches had been dumped in the boating lake. It’s half-term so not surprising if bored youngsters get up to mischief. But it’s not just harmless pranks: the damage is serious.

Up on the highest level of the park is a wooden shelter with a thatched roof. Youngsters often shelter in here at night when they have nowhere else to go (who minds this?), but why do they have to damage it by pulling wooden panels off it and sometimes burning them? At the moment it seems they have been damaging the thatch and, to stop this, an ugly fence with a steel grille is being erected at one side to prevent access to the roof.

In recent years a brand new concrete all-weather tennis table was wrecked by vandals within weeks of being installed, while young trees are often damaged.

I don’t think there’s any excuse for this behaviour. I didn’t understand mindless vandalism when I was a teenager and I don’t understand it now. I can understand people being bored, angry, frustrated and in need of stimulation and encouragement, but not wrecking the good things that are provided.

The authorities don’t seem to bothered, focusing instead on painting yellow lines on the lovely stone steps in case someone falls down them, erecting intrusive barriers to reduce the numbers of people drowning in the stream (I’m not aware of any), and putting up half a dozen maps of what is a very small park in which it would be quite a challenge to get lost.

The council uses cotton wool when the youngsters want challenge, excitement, adventure and stimulation.  

I feel angry at the damage and angry at those who do it, although I understand there are problems which cause this. I was lucky enough never to have to spend my time on the streets at night when a teenager and I believe no one should have to do this, but it’s not always the case. Providing facilities for bored youths is not necessarily an easy answer, having seen brand new, purpose-built play and sports areas in other towns wrecked by vandals with weeks of opening. No, the problems are more deep-rooted, which is a shame because it’s sad to think of these nocturnal battles during the daylight enjoyment of Bicclescombe Park when it is a delight for families, the elderly, children, dog-walkers, model boat enthusiasts, tennis players and others.

Should it put anyone off going there? Definitely not. It’s as safe as anywhere, especially in the daylight, and I’d recommend Bicclescombe Park to anyone, even bored youngsters, as long as they respect it.

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