Questions raised over public access to The Secret Jungle play area in Northdown Park

The Secret Jungle

A Margate nursery which took on responsibility for The Secret Jungle play area in Northdown Park last September, says more inspections must take place before it can be reopened to the public.

Manor House Nursery, also based at the park, took over as the new operator following Your Leisure’s announcement that it would no longer run the site.

The all-inclusive play area designed to allow disabled and able-bodied children to play alongside each other had been funded by The Children’s Society and then the Big Lottery but cash ran out, spelling the end of special family events.

Sean Sheerin, who runs the Manor House Group with wife Jayne, said the couple submitted expressions of interest in the site over the years before being awarded the contract.

Several other groups also made enquiries, including the team behind the Thanet Forest School and Tamara Rattigan of The Little Art Cart community interest company, who questioned why there was not a public tender process.

The Secret Jungle was closed in July last year following a spate of vandalism at the park. It has not yet reopened to the public although Manor Park this week announced that its pupils would be using the area for forest school sessions.

The announcement sparked questions over public access from former interested parties and parents who previously had fob entry for their children had to play in the area.

Tamara said: “I think it should be a space open for the whole of the community to be able to use and enjoy!
The garden was always open to the public before becoming the Secret Jungle!  The Little Art Cart, being a community interest company, I felt we could have really utilised the site for its original purpose-for the whole community to enjoy.

“The plans we submitted for the site would have made it inclusive for everyone and could have created a real community “hub” that everyone could have enjoye. !Plus we were in a position to run events immediately last summer and had funding in place.

“In the plans I submitted to Thanet council it was our intention to have staff on site running daily events all year round and we had visions of a winter wonderland there each Christmas for families to come and visit.

“ It’s such a shame that it remains closed.”

A spokesman for the nursery said: “The Jungle  has suffered repeated attacks from local youths since last Christmas and the damage caused has been substantial. It has taken us some time to arrange and plan a course of action that will stop any further attacks.

“Over the past few months there has been a team of nine of our personnel working tirelessly to rejuvenate and repair the area. We have installed new security measures to stop ingress into the area at night, new children’s resources have been purchased to replace those vandalised, as well as new elements being added to complement the outdoor learning environment such as a built in sand pit and new child sized mud kitchen.

“Works are still ongoing and we are trying our best to get the area opened up fully as soon as possible. However, there are still some inspections that need to take place before we are fully happy to open the gates once more to the general public.

“This has taken a huge effort to bring this area back into use after being so badly damaged over a long period of time. We have invested a lot of money so far and there is clearly still some more time and cash that needs to be invested.

“That said, the current fob system will, without doubt, have to be suspended as it has become clear that some of the damage caused in the past was as a consequence of someone letting themselves in with the fob.

“Once we have finalised inspection and are happy that the area is fully safe, we will be updating the Facebook page and informing everyone on how they can access this beautiful area once more.”

Sean Sheerin, from Manor House Nursery

Mr Sheerin had previously pledged to keep the site open for the public, saying:  “As far as the public is concerned they won’t see any real differences, they will still be able to come and go but on a more controlled basis. It is a community asset.”

Find updates on the Manor House facebook page here