An angry mum is urging The Shuttleworth Trust to reverse its decision to charge visitors for the whole site, claiming that low-income families are being excluded from the beloved Jubilee Playground
The new charge - £15 per adult - to the whole Shuttleworth visitor attraction was introduced last June when the Trust reopened its outdoor spaces as a Covid-secure site.
This meant that the playground, which was previously free to enter, was included in the charge.
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But the woman is appealing for the charge to be dropped as Covid restrictions begin to ease and people start to recover from the impact of the global pandemic.
The Trust states that its visitors have "much preferred" an entrance fee for all the experiences in one ticket; however, the mum argues that many children are missing out, as the charge limits the playground to only families "who can afford the significant entrance fee".
The woman, who wished to remain anonymous, claimed: "The Jubilee Playground was built with the support of the National Playing Fields Association whose aim was 'to safeguard and secure playing fields, sports grounds and open spaces to the benefit of the whole community'.
"The Jubilee Playground has therefore previously always been free for visitors to enter, apart from specific event days. However, when I visited the Jubilee Playground recently with my husband and children, we were told that it would cost us £30 to enter the site! This is a very large sum of money which, although includes the Swiss Garden and Shuttleworth Collection, clearly contradicts the original intention that the Jubilee Playground should be an open space where all children are able to play."
The lady argued that The Trust's website states that the Jubilee Playground "has been designed for inclusive play to provide opportunities for children whatever their physical abilities", asking: "How can it be right to have a play area (advertised as being 'inclusive') that excludes so many local families?"
The charge applies to adults only and is valid for 30 days for unlimited visits if booked online.
However, she went on to allege that the alternative offer of a £50 annual membership was "not at all" inclusive and "rubbed salt" into the wound for those unable to afford it.
She also claimed that the new charge "made a mockery" of recommendations on websites such as netmums.com for free family play at The Shuttleworth Trust (she would be asking websites to remove the comments), and that a steward had told her that the site entry fee was necessary to ensure that the Shuttleworth Estate was covid-secure.
This was a point that she found "simply ridiculous", alleging that "the exchange of money clearly does not reduce the spread of a virus".
And she claimed: "I appreciate that the Shuttleworth Collection, Swiss Garden and wider estate have had a significantly decreased income over the past year but reducing children's access to outdoor play spaces at just the time when they need them most, as they and the wider population are recovering from a global pandemic, seems short-sighted, counters all child-development advice and will limit local knowledge of the significance of the Shuttleworth Estate.
"Had the Richard Shuttleworth Trust chosen to have a small parking fee for the playground I am sure that, with local and online advertising, more people would have visited the site and would have used the catering facilities while they were there, thus generating further income."
She added: "We often had lunch and/or ice creams at the café but, to the significant disappointment of our young children, we will not be visiting again while the charges that so blatantly contradict why HRH The Duke of Edinburgh opened the site - namely, because it was a revolutionary playground for all children - remain."
Responding to the woman's letter, Rebecca Dalley, Executive Director at The Shuttleworth Trust, said: "Thanks for taking the time to raise your concerns with us.
"The playground assets and liabilities were transferred by sale to the Shuttleworth Trust in 2012, ten years after it opened to the public as part of the schemes you mention. This fulfilled the original intention of the organisations involved which have now been disbanded.
"The Shuttleworth Trust, which is a private charity with no regular local or central government financial support, has indeed changed the organisation of the visitor experience and this now includes the playground within the whole attraction. As a private charity, it is our obligation to the Trust and to our visitors to keep them safe. This includes both management of numbers and NHS Test and Trace, as well as daily sanitisation of the play area; provision of santiser stations throughout the playground, restriction of numbers and extra cleaning of toilets during the covid period, as well as the safe maintenance of the ageing playground for its users.
"We have therefore moved to a different way of offering access to our site that includes an entrance change for all the experiences on our site in one ticket, which our users have much preferred as they make the most of 60 acres of outdoor parkland, gardens and paddocks as well as the playground that are part of the Shuttleworth Trust visitor offer. You will be pleased to know that the changes have the complete support of our Trustees. We encourage visitors to pre-book their tickets to manage our numbers, and their tickets are then valid for a full 30 day period. Alternatively, our regular visitors join one of Shuttleworth’s Friends organisations that provide complimentary access on non-event days all year round as part of their package.
"I’m sorry that you do not feel that any of these options offer value for money for our wonderful site which has provided a great respite to many regular visitors throughout the covid period. I hope you will reconsider and take the opportunity to visit us again in the future."