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
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