The proprietor of The Cabin in Belle Vue Park in Sudbury has joined park users to hit back at claims that vandalism is scaring off families.
Nichola Layzell, who sells refreshments from the booth, said although there had been a few incidents of vandalism, the vast majority of young people using the park were polite and respectful and helpful.
She said she did not know of anyone that had been frightened off from using the park.
Her comments come after last week the Free Press reported former The Landscape Group worker Dan Morgan’s comments.
Mr Morgan said he had grown increasingly tired of seeing the park vandalised by youngsters.
After the Belle Vue toilets were closed last week due to sinks being smashed, Mr Morgan finally spoke out, claiming some families had been frightened away due to the vandalism.
On Mr Morgan’s claims she said: “I would have said it was an over exaggeration. On the whole I’ve never had a problem with young people.
“On a nice day you can hardly see the grass. People come here from a long way away. I live in Sudbury and think we are very fortunate to have this place.
“It is a family environment, what is nice is they feel their children are safe.”
She explained there were often visitors from Bury St Edmunds and Chelmsford, attracted by the open space and the facilities including free tennis and basketball courts, a skatepark and the play park.
She said the youngsters often helped her set up and put away her tables and chairs, saying the only trouble she ever had was minor swearing.
It is around three years since the last warden position was ended but Mrs Layzell said this is a role that should be brought back.
She added that since the incidents highlighted by Mr Morgan, there generally had been little vandalism but agreed preventative measures did need to be put in.
In contrast Mrs Layzell believes more needs to be done to promote the park as it can be an important visitor attraction for the town, boosting the local economy.
Explaining that she had recently met somebody who had lived in Long Melford for 30 years who did not know the park was there, she said there were signs in the town for many other attractions but not the park.
“It attracts people to the town, they then use the shops, the pool, restaurants and support our local economy. They will come back if it is pleasant.”
Babergh no longer plants bedding plants in the flower beds in front of Belle Vue House and Mrs Layzell said prize winning thistles were simply being left, while she added that the grass was being left too long between cuts.
“The grass was over a foot high,” she said. “Everywhere used to be maintained and cared for. I bet two weeks before Sudbury in Bloom it will be looked after again. I feel we are being let down by Babergh.”
Mrs Layzell’s view has been supported by park users of all ages.
“They [teenagers] don’t terrorise anyone, they just sit chatting,” said Kate Allen from Long Melford who regularly brings her young grandchildren to the park.
“You will always have an element of the population that will not respect things but I’ve certainly not witnessed it.”
She questioned why it was teenagers being blamed when there was no evidence of who the culprits were.
Mrs Layzell said the toilets should be improved and moved to an area where people were, while Mrs Allen added that while things looked old and in disrepair vandalism was more likely to take place.
Nichole Franks, 25, from Sudbury, said she didn’t believe families were being scared away.
“I don’t see any truth in it. It’s absolutely ridiculous, it’s one of the safest parks. I’ve never felt intimidated.”
Sudbury mayor Sue Ayres said she was on the case to ensure the vandalism ended after being left ‘disgusted’ by the dozens of photos of the damage sent by Mr Morgan to the Free Press and local officials.
She has already contacted Suffolk Police and Babergh District Council and said it would only take one person being caught for it to be put to an end.
At Tuesday’s Sudbury Town Council meeting Mrs Ayres said: “We are very concerned. We need to prosecute them, find the parents and really hit them hard.”
Babergh district councillor Jan Osborne added: “Anti social behaviour has been on the increase in Belle Vue Park. We need to look at prevention.
“It has been going on for some time but rightly or wrongly we haven’t been addressing the issue.”
When asked if ‘heads would roll’ fellow Babergh councillor Adrian Osborne replied “possibly”.
Town councillor Jack Owen said he did not think the town council had engaged young people in the town well enough.
A common thought among users is the introduction of CCTV cameras to act as a deterrent, however this could be difficult in an area frequented by large numbers of children.
There has also been a call for police patrols in the area
Mrs Layzell said “They have CCTV in town. Personally I think if we had some here and possibly some automatic lights that would be a deterrent. If you think you are being recorded you consider what you are doing.”
As well deterrents for vandalism she believes taking the park back from the control of Babergh District Council and into the hands of Sudbury Town Council again would solve the problems.
She said she was sure there would be plenty of volunteers willing to look after the park, for example to maintain the flower beds once more.