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The 'Cambridge Evening News' Visits The Arbury Adventure Playground, 1979.

With the summer holidays beginning, what could you do as an Arbury child in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s? Well, the Arbury Adventure Playground, off Wagstaff Close on the Nun's Way playing field, was a bit of a wow. And you could think yourself lucky you lived in Arbury - it was the only Cambridge City housing estate to have an adventure playground - and all provided by local residents' fund raising and campaigning and council grants to keep it going!

Graham Odd, of the Cambridge Evening News, popped in on 23 July, 1979:

It is the start of an intensive six-week season at the Arbury Adventure Playground. Between 150 and 300 children will daily pour into the 1.25 acre enclosure off Wagstaff Close.

The sound of a bell rose above the bleating of goats and the crowing of cockerels in North Arbury this morning, and a crowd of children gathered to plan their summer adventures.

In itself, the idea of an adventure playground is no longer startling. They are dotted all over the country and many of them are graphic testimonials to the very unadventurous minds of their creators. Arbury adventure playground is rather different. It is laid out on a heroic scale and looks like an outpost of the US Cavalry after the Indians have been. There is a 10-foot-high perimeter stockade, big main gates and a high watch tower in the middle.  

In one corner is the livestock, all snuffling, clucking and crowing. In another is ‘Venus’ an old landing craft, looking rather washed up, and nearer the middle a large battered play hut. 

It is not for the fastidious or tidy minded, and fastidious children doubtless give it a wide berth, but it is an excellent place to light fires, cook sausages and potatoes and melt down old cola cans into aluminium ingots (you need an awful lot of heat for this last one).

These activities and others, like building dens and whizzing down the aerial ropeway, are everyday events at the playground.

Today, planning starts on a more organised series of events. On the formal side, there will be a pet show, a sports day and an open day. On the informal side are some all night camps and a (potentially) gigantic mock battle.

The busy period at Arbury starts when the local schools close for the summer. From today, with the weekend over and parents back at work, it will be catering for an average of over 200 children per day. 

The full-time playleader, Bob Asby, has two temporary assistants to see him through the next six weeks of twelve hour days seven days a week, after which he will stagger home to 20 Lawrence Way and leave quietly for a holiday, probably on the Norfolk Broads, with his wife, Carolyn, and their 16 month-old-twins, Daniel and Jason.

But at the moment he is looking forward to six weeks of adventure.

'We're hoping to have a really good summer this year,' he said. 'Perhaps our best yet.'

We talked about the mock battle, which is still taking shape in Bob's mind. It needs to be very carefully thought out and he will put it to his employers - the Arbury Adventure Playground Association - before going ahead.

'What I want to do is to get a lot of children and take them over to the woods near Histon, or perhaps into the fields about a mile away. They'd have to find their way back and make an attack on the playground.

'The people inside the playground would have to stop them, and they'd all be armed with flour-bags. I'd have to get hold of some flour-bags of course, we haven't got them yet. And anyone hit by a flour-bag would be dead and out of the game.'

Bob hasn't forgotten that battles need focal points. 'We'll have a metal box somewhere that has got to be found. I want to rig up some sort of explosion - not a dangerous one, but one that just causes a big puff of smoke. That will announce the battle's over.'

When the children go camping there they will sleep in tents and take turns to keep an all-night watch and tend an all-night fire.

Bob's two assistants are Colin Patterson, who is 20, and comes from Hobart Road, Cambridge, and 24-year-old Diane Wallis.

Their salaries, totalling around £420, are being found by the Playground Association, which has a continuous though currently successful battle to stay solvent. Its committee is chaired by Mr Sid Newman of 48 Crowland Way, Arbury, whose wife Deirdre acts as secretary.

'We get a £6,250 grant from the city council,' she says, 'but we now pay £2,500 of that back in rent for the site. That leaves us with £3,750, the bulk of which naturally goes to pay Bob's salary.

'We're very pleased with the way the playground is going at the moment. Our main projects for the summer are to do up the boat for the under-fives to use, especially when it's wet and to tile the toilets in the main hut.'

Bob is also satisfied with the work. He doesn't earn a fortune, but he has the satisfaction of doing a job which most Arbury people think is worthwhile. He is now 27, and started working at the playground as a volunteer about six years ago, at which time he was a storeman with Pye Engineering. He became a full time playleader about three years ago.

The parents' trust is vital to the scheme, particularly in cases of accident. Minor accidents are virtually inseparable from adventure and last year the playground had 23, ranging from a broken leg to a bee sting and gerbil bite.

'I have every child's address,' said Bob. 'I give first-aid, notify the parents and log every accident. We're insured for around £10,000 to cover extreme cases, but one of the best safeguards is to check the equipment regularly. I go round every morning, pulling at things and swinging on the ropes.'

Below - some pages from Arbury Is Where We Live! (1981) featuring the playground. 

Just look at those flared trousers! From the late 1960s to the early 1980s the whole world appeared to be flared!

The bearded bloke in the middle photograph on the left was Mr Howard, art teacher at the Manor School. He always let the children listen to the radio in his lessons - and Radio 1 at that! Top feller!


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