It’s plain embarrassing that I’ve taken so long to get to the Big Parks Project in Peacehaven, Sussex – I’ve known about it since its conception, thanks a friend who has been doing all the copywriting for it. So I should really have been at the opening celebrations, which she kindly invited me to.
But it’s also criminal because a few people I know have been and loved it, yet it took us until late August to finally get there. What can I say, the blog is organic and real, and my family and I never go to places in order for me to write about them – it’s always, always the other way around.
There’s no other way to put it: this park is fantastic. Innovative, sustainable, different, natural, engaging, inventive. Just fantastic. It’s surrounded by the South Downs, and in colour, material and design, there’s a real feeling that it’s been conceived to blend in and complement the sweeping landscape around it (just as has the sewerage works nearby, whose grass-planted roof makes it almost – almost – indistinguishable from its surroundings).
The park and skate park were conceived following a £2 million donation from Southern Water and Bovis Homes, towards improving the leisure facilities in the town of Peacehaven. There was an extensive public consultation before a skate park, hub/café, and large playground were built – the latter by Playsafe Playgrounds. The site is of archaeological interest, so in the café building is a space for exhibiting artefacts found at the site. Now in the planning are a community orchard and a programme of interactive archaeology.
The friend I went with advised we pack extra layers – because of it’s location the park is very exposed, and it could be as bright and sunny and still as anything in Lewes or elsewhere, but still be a bit nippy and windy at the Big Parks.
We parked up in the small car park by the café (bear in mind that there is limited space here and that there’s alternative free parking at the large public carpark at the bottom of Piddinghoe Avenue). As we wandered towards the playground’s slightly First Nations carved entrance flanks, my sons broke into a run – the acorn structure and woven willow formations calling to them under a gloomy sky that never dissolved into rain.
Right by the entrance gate was a huge carved dragon’s head, the long grassy hillock snaking away from it studded with wooden spikes to make up the beast’s body. Nearby was sand and a wobbly bridge, a slide and a willow tunnel. Although there was plenty more in this half of the playground – let alone the next area on from it – they stayed playing on that dragon for a full 40 minutes before even looking up to see what else there was.
On to ‘bong-bong-bong’ on the giant musical instruments and a snaky flattened ‘maze’ (see top), and then through the gate to the second half of the playground, with another willow tunnel, huge swings, the acorn tower (which had Tellytubby-land-like grass tunnels around it) and a smooth wood climbing wall.
We were at the Big Parks Project for almost five hours, and still the kids hadn’t run out of ideas for playing within it. It’s an amazing, free day out and you can even head to the beach afterwards. I applaud whoever brought this absolute gem to the playscape of our corner of Sussex. My only complaint (and it isn’t really one because it’s soon to change) is the café, which is fine for cups of tea, but otherwise pretty basic. However, it’s under temporary management and open to tender by interested businesses. As word spreads about the BPP, I think it has the potential to be a destination place as profitable and popular as Velo Cafe at The Level in Brighton.
Speaking of which, come now, whoever is in charge of those thousands of squirrelled £££s that were earmarked to go into playgrounds in Lewes (but never did), let’s sort it out yeah? I caught a contractor checking the safety of the climbing frame in The Pells playground last week (his anaylsis: “Completely rotten”). I asked him if it’s going to be replaced. I got: “I’ve been telling them the past four years it needs to come down, nothing ever gets done.”
So, Lewes District Council, how about it? Brighton has The Level, Peacehaven has the Big Parks Project – can’t you please bring something of its standard to our fair “creative” town? You’ve given us the little playground at Priory Ruins, granted, but you can improve enormously on the structures that need to be replaced. And you’ve got the money, so get on and use it!
Drive: 25 mins
Address: Piddinghoe Ave, Peacehaven, East Sussex, BN10 8RH (you have to turn right down off the main road through Peacehaven when coming from Newhaven – signposted ‘Piddinghoe Sports Park’)
Disclosure: This is an independent account of our family’s experience of a day out at the Big Parks Project. No compensation, financial or otherwise, was offered or accepted for the writing of this review.
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