Petition to open Wimbledon Park an hour earlier gains residents’ support

A petition to open Wimbledon Park an hour earlier each morning has gained over 800 signatures, following discussions earlier this year.

Voluntary organisation Friends of Wimbledon Park created a petition to officially change the opening times of Wimbledon Park from 8am Monday to Friday and 9am on the weekends to 7am daily.

Ongoing discussions between Friends of Wimbledon Park representatives and Merton Council revealed that many people would value the earlier opening of the park for reasons including exercise and dog-walking before school or work.

Rob Kennedy, Membership Secretary of Friends of Wimbledon Park, described the area as a well-used local resource.

People use the park for safer, more pleasant routes as part of their commutes or daily exercise routines, and sometimes the key holders are able to open the gates earlier, however this is haphazard and often does not include all the gates, so whilst an entrance to a running route may be open, an exit on the opposite side of the park may be locked.

Kennedy said: “People go on walks or for a run, and they think it’ll be open but then it remains shut – they’ll go through one gate and find that they can’t get out on the other side.

“Also, the evenings don’t feel very safe, and we have had some people raise that recently.”

As the evenings get darker earlier, women’s safety in particular presents a key issue in the opening times of the park.

During lockdown, there were reports of anti-social behaviour in the woods during the late evenings, and outdoor parties involving people jumping over the fences to gain access to the park.

Kennedy added that there is a conflict of interest between human safety and animal safety, as areas of Wimbledon Park have reduced lighting for animal habitats.

The woods on the north side of the park are a habitat for bats, so invasive lighting is not allowed all the time, which means certain routes around the park are secluded and dark.

For some, running in darkness doesn’t offer a safe enough option, and to be able to fit exercise into their daily lives can prove difficult when parks are closed in the mornings before work.

“WELL-USED LOCAL RESOURCE”: The group is pushing for earlier opening times for the park

Eve Davies, a 20-year-old student who runs several times a week during the early mornings, said:I have started going a little later in the mornings as it’s getting light later. In summer months I like to be out by about 6am as the light mornings accommodate this.

“I prefer to run before university or work as it sets my day on a positive note. I also find that I lack motivation to get out running after a full day of university or work, therefore the morning better suits me.

“Providing the park was a safe place to run in the early hours of the morning, I think this would be helpful for many runners as they could avoid running in the winter evenings when it gets dark earlier.

“I think getting out for fresh air first thing in the morning is also extremely beneficial in terms of productivity and mood.”

One supporter stated their reason for signing the petition as: “The Department of Health and Social Care encourages everyone to exercise and enjoy the fresh air; for Merton to keep people locked out of the park until 08:00 is unreasonable and is, in fact, undermining people’s efforts to remain healthy.”

Someone else stated: “I’m about to have a baby and anticipate lots of early morning strolls ahead of me.”

Another added: “It would make a big difference to my daughter going to school.”

Kennedy added that Friends of Wimbledon Park hope the petition will quantify the need for the park to open earlier to Merton Council, as part of ongoing dialogues which have included ideas of timed pedestrian-only locks and local residents to volunteer as keyholders.

Wimbledon Park is one of the largest in Merton, and has numerous and various facilities including tennis courts, a large lake with water sport activities, two football pitches and adventure golf.

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