Epic bat­tle won to keep play­ing fields green

At the be­gin­ning of this aca­demic year, a school cel­e­brated after se­cur­ing the fu­ture of its play­ing field and pro­tect­ing it from de­vel­op­ers. LISA BRINKWORTH, one of the group of par­ents who helped save the site, wrote this ac­count of how the bat­tle was w

Buckinghamshire Advertiser - - NEWS -

IT IS the stuff of Hol­ly­wood films. A small group of par­ents fight in­dus­trial scale plans to build ex­ec­u­tive hous­ing on their chil­dren’s school field, and win.

At the start of the au­tumn term, Thorpe House School, in Oval Way, Ger­rards Cross, fi­nally put an end to spec­u­la­tion sur­round­ing the fu­ture of its play­ing field with the an­nounce­ment it had se­cured the green space on which its pre-prep boys have joy­fully played for decades. It had been feared the fields would be sold to a prop­erty de­vel­oper so the school and par­ents joined forces to buy the land them­selves to safe­gauard them from de­vel­op­ers.

Cue an enor­mous fundrais­ing drive to turn a pipe dream into re­al­ity.

Head­teacher Ter­ence Ayres is al­ready mak­ing good use of the field where he teaches year one and two boys rugby.

“As the new head­mas­ter, I am in­cred­i­bly for­tu­nate to have such a won­der­ful re­source se­cured for the fu­ture.”

In a deal struck by the school and the landowner two years ago, half the site in­clud­ing Kingscote school was sold to Thorpe House, while the landown­ers in­sisted on re­tain­ing the other half with the in­ten­tion of de­vel­op­ing it. A small group of par­ents banded to­gether in­de­pen­dently of the school to re­tain the field.

“We were told we didn’t stand a chance”, said Vic­to­ria Dover, a founder mem­ber of the Par­ent Ac­tion Group, formed in 2012. “Le­gal and prop­erty de­vel­op­ment ex­perts ex­pe­ri­enced in sim­i­lar cases told us we were fight­ing a los­ing bat­tle.”

Un­bowed, the group met reg­u­larly to ex­plore ways to pro­tect the field. In a plot akin to Erin Brock­ovich, six moth­ers turned de­tec­tive in at­tempts to un­cover le­gal re­straints and loop­holes that could thwart build­ing plans.

“Its loss was un­con­scionable,” said PAG mem­ber, Phillippa Des­lan­des. “I felt com­pelled to act. We just couldn’t let it hap­pen.”

There was fever­ish ac­tiv­ity as more par­ents vol­un­teered their in­di­vid­ual pro­fes­sional ser­vices to help what was fast be­com­ing a lost cause. The small group ex­panded into a ver­i­ta­ble crack team of solic­i­tors, fi­nanciers and prop­erty de­vel­op­ers work­ing around the clock to ex­plore ev­ery le­git­i­mate av­enue of suc­cess.

Some took time away from their jobs. Oth­ers took their ex­tracur­ric­u­lar work to the of­fice, in one case strongly sup­ported by her boss.

Ger­rards Cross babysit­ters found them­selves in de­mand as Thorpe House par­ents spent their evenings in one another’s houses tire­lessly thrash­ing out new ideas.

With time run­ning out, the par­ent group even­tu­ally de­cided to make di­rect con­tact with the landowner and pro­posed an of­fer for the pur­chase of the field. This paved the way for ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween the school’s gover­nors and the landowner. Once an of­fer had been ac­cepted, over­whelm­ing joy erupted through­out the school and do­na­tions poured in on a BT Do­nate site.

Per­haps no one could be hap­pier than Jo­hanna Dodd, mother of Wil­liam Dodd, the for­mer Thorpe House pupil who died of can­cer at four years old. This year he would have been 18, the same age as the colour­ful Sweet Gum tree which stands proud on the field where he played with his older brother, Ed­ward.

On hear­ing the good news, Mrs Dodd said: “It’s lovely to see the boys play­ing on the field as we


FOR­EVER GREEN: Boys en­joy­ing a game of foot­ball on the Thorpe House School field

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