Sunday, 21 April 2019

Boy scared to use skate park

Boy scared to use skate park

A DISABLED boy who was presented with a specialist wheelchair so he could go skating is scared to use Henley’s skate park following incidents of antisocial behaviour.

Ben Sleet, nine, used to be a regular at the £290,000 skate park in Makins recreation ground, which opened in 2017.

But now he feels unsafe using it and instead is taken by his mother Angela to Guildford, more than 40 miles away, to use the facilities there.

Mrs Sleet, who lives with her son in Gainsborough Hill, Henley, says there have been incidents of violence, vandalism and drug use at the skate park, off Greys Road. Some of the other users have also been rude to Ben, who suffers from spina bifida, and his wheelchair has been damaged.

Last week, the Henley Standard reported that a 10-year-old boy had been punched in the head by a boy of similar age at the skate park.

John Maillard, the boy’s father, said that when he posted about the incident on social media other parents responded by saying they didn’t allow their children to visit the skate park any more.

Mrs Sleet said: “The skate park is meant to be for everybody but we don’t feel safe down there any more. Some of the kids can get a bit nasty with Ben. They don’t talk to him or they have a go at him if he’s in their way.

“Quite a few of them are nasty to the other kids. They beat up other kids, smash glasses and do drugs. They are messing it up for everybody else.

“I was down there one day with Ben and he was having fun in his chair. One boy had a big glass bottle and smashed it on a tree.

“Bits went flying everywhere so I had a go at him, saying if he didn’t pick it up then kids or dogs could get hurt. Ben has a puncture in his tyres now.”

Mr Sleet said she had witnessed other youngsters smoking drugs. “The smell was hitting us,” she said. “It’s not a nice smell for a nine-year-old and I don’t want that for Ben.”

Ben’s condition means he can only walk with a zimmer frame and both his legs are in braces. He also has club foot and a dislocated left hip as well as suffering from epilepsy, for which he takes regular medication, and hydrocephalus.

He was a regular visitor to the park after it opened but struggled with his old wheelchair as it was too cumbersome.

Mrs Sleet found a £5,000 sports wheelchair made from lightweight steel, which would give him more stability, and started an online appeal to buy onre.

She received a £4,000 donation from Fareham-based Eight Wealth Management’s Eight Foundation scheme and the Henley Skatepark Initiative donated the other £1,000.

Donations from residents and supporters paid for a full-face helmet, elbow and kneepads and other safety equipment.

Now Mrs Sleet says Ben won’t use the skate park at all.

She said: “We went down a couple of weeks back for an hour and Ben just sat there staring at everyone and looking miserable.

“I took him to another skate park in Guildford and he had a whale of a time. He was on all the ramps and the people were lovely.

“I can’t take him there as often because my husband works and I don’t drive. It’s a shame.

“They built the skate park for a lot of money and for everybody to enjoy but people just abuse it. It’s not fair on everyone else.”

Police are investigating the attack at the skate park, while Henley Town Council is to consider installing CCTV.

A meeting of the council’s recreation and amenities committee heard that parents were concerned about an increasing amount of antisocial behaviour.

Residents suggested asking the police to visit the skate park more often, employing a security warden and creating a Neighbourhood Watch-style group made up of parents.

Councillor Kellie Hinton, who chairs the council’s recreation and amenities committee, said: “Obviously we want the skate part to be enjoyed by everybody.

“There are a few that seem to be ruining that for all, which is a great shame. Serious incidents do need to be reported to the police.”

She that installing CCTV would require a lot of planning from the town council.

She said: “We did look at CCTV when we installed the skate park but the district council would not support us as part of their network.

“Like many other parents I’d be happy for my child to be filmed knowing it would make the area safer but it’s not as simple as that.

“We will do whatever we can to make the environment as safe as possible and hopefully that will allay the fears of Ben and others.”

Colin Brathwaite, chairman of the Henley Skatepark Initiative, said: “We are 100 per cent against antisocial behaviour in any way, shape or form, anywhere in Henley.

“Thousands of people use the skate park without any problems whatsoever. Any incidents are in the minority and we hope that everyone who visits the park enjoys themselves.

“Let’s stick to the evidence here rather than exaggerate one or two incidents per year. Antisocial behaviour is problem in all of society and severe police cuts do not help this.

“If we had more police vehicle patrols as we used to 20 years ago, then any issues anywhere in Henley would be greatly reduced.”

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