Your Leisure will cease to run the Secret Jungle in Northdown Park as of September 2 – but the site’s future may be secure under a new operator.
The jungle is an all-inclusive play area designed to allow disabled and able-bodied children to play alongside each other. It had been funded by The Children’s Society and then the Big Lottery but cash ran out some 18 months ago, spelling the end of special family events.
It has since been subsidised by Your Leisure, which also runs the Theatre Royal, Winter Gardens and isle sports centres, but the organisation is no longer able to continue that funding.
The Big Lottery grant of £350,000 was made in 2010 and ran until the end of 2016. The funds not only paid for maintenance but also activities for children of all abilities, such as an after-school nature club, and events for the community.
Your Leisure, which suffered a £350,000 cut in funding from Thanet council this year, has notified families who use the area, accessed with a special fob key, of the decision to cease as operators.
In a notice at the site it says: “It is with regret that Your Leisure, operators of the Secret Jungle, is unable to continue subsidising this community facility. We will therefore cease to operate the Secret Jungle from Sunday, September 2.
“We have been working hard with Thanet council to identify a viable future for the Secret Jungle, including alternative operators. This work leaves Your Leisure and Thanet council confident that an alternative operator will be found in the near future.”
The play area suffered vandalism in June when the security gate was broken, meaning it could be pushed open rather than secured with fob access.
The specialist playground with sensory areas and outdoor learning is maintained by a part-time worker and a group of volunteers.
The Isle of Thanet News understands an operator has been found for the site although their identity has not yet been confirmed.
Thanet council, Your Leisure and the new operator are due to issue a joint statement about the future of the Secret Jungle.