Charlie’s blog: On the beach

Is a beach park right at the petty end of politics?

Grays Beach, Grays Beach, Grays Beach. Every time I mention Grays Beach my editor shortly follows with a sharp intake of breath, followed by a joke about how I am obsessed with the place. I suppose in a way he’s not too far from the truth, particularly when reporting on the cuts at the council I wrote an entire article about Grays Beach cuts, running out of room to mention the cuts to PCSOs and the weekly bin collection. Well that was a journalism career finished before it had even started!

My history with the park probably sheds some light as to why I am a tad protective of this little gem tucked away in the corner of the borough. I began working there in 2008 as temporary staff in the summer to man the activities and maintain the park, and to be honest it was a job that suited a student down to the ground. All of the temporary staff were employed by an agency, which was fair enough because Thurrock Council didn’t need us all year round and they don’t really want to be lumbered with paying holiday pay to staff who’s job it was to work during the holiday. The job was mainly cleaning and keeping the kids safe, so it didn’t really require staff with skills, except for the management. Typically during the summer there would be 15-20 staff, mainly students working throughout the day.

So for a 19-20 year old, working on a beach park in a t-shirt and shorts, occasional cleaning and occasional heavy-lifting would be cushdy, right? The real beauty about working at Grays Beach was that every day was different, but that was also the downside too. Grays Beach had plenty of problems, every now and then there would be a fire in a bin, a fire on the riverside walkway, someone even set fire to the tractor container. (That would have been an interesting chat with the insurance provider.) For all the work that the cleaning staff did, every morning in the summer holidays we would return to clean up broken bottles, beer cans and cigarette butts littered all over the site.

It seems at Thurrock Council, Grays Beach has become the elephant in the room that nobody wants to talk about.

As interested as everybody was in how Grays Beach was getting on, nobody really wanted to do anything to help it. The official line from any administration, councillor or officer would be, ‘Grays Beach is Thurrock’s flagship park’, which is true, it just isn’t treated as such. In the summer of 2009 vandalism at the park reached a new high, the galleon was set on fire and half of it had to be demolished. Unfortunately, rather than be demolished straight away it had a few weeks of tape around it in the middle of the kids’ summer holidays.

Carl Morris questioned the security presence on the site and we had regular visits to the park from councillors Sue MacPherson and Tunde Ojetola to check on progress. I also campaigned to make sure that Grays Beach was included in the alcohol free zone area, unfortunately it never made it, and it remains one of those forgotten areas of Thurrock. That is of course until T-Fest comes along and everyone remembers the ‘flagship ladidadida…..’

So what for the park now? One full-time member of staff has gone, and there is going to be a skeleton service when it comes to activities in the summer of 2011. It might be a few years until it returns to its former glory.

But what can be done? The officers spent a lot of time at Grays Beach, occasionally we saw some of the councillors. Why is Grays Beach not making money?

At a time when finances are a tad more secure, there needs to be a deeper look at how we keep our little gem in the corner of the borough safe. Firstly, it needs to be looked at how on-site staff can be utilised to maintain an overnight security presence and we also need to give the police the powers that they need to tackle drinking when it is related to anti-social behaviour.

When the public feel safer on the park, and when the activities on the park are secure, I am sure we will see Grays Beach become the park it was once again. Hopefully it will have the money to prosper again financially and as a public park that is provided at a limited cost to Thurrock residents.

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