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Lower Hutt Community Centres: Final Statement (1950)


Chapter 8
The Naenae Community Playground

The idea of outdoor games for all; a long-range playground plan; an experimental playground for immediate development; the leaders group; opening of Playground; failure of Playground; necessary conditions of success for such a venture; why these conditions were not fulfilled; the question of leadership; withdrawal of leadership at crucial stage; irresponsibility of Internal Affairs Department and Education Department.
The Most important secondary project undertaken by the Naenae community centre organisers was the Naenae Community Playground. Because this project had great potential importance as a social experiment, and because its failure emphasises to the point of demonstration what I have already said in the last chapter on the question of community leadership, I propose to devote this chapter to its description and history.
Early in 1948, a bout the time of the community Centre poll publicity campaign, I began to think systematically about the place which "minor outdoor games" should occupy in the future Naenae Community Centre The reader will recall that from the earliest days the community centre planners had in mind an "all-purpose" centre which would provide recreational facilities both indoor and outdoor. Indeed, as already noted, the original Community Centre Committee of the Planning Council had been successful in persuading the Housing Construction Department to place an additional six acres of land at the disposal of the planners, to be expressly used as a site for minor games such as tennis, croquet, and bowls. (These six acres are the section bounded by Naenae Road, Treadwell St., Park Avenue, and the future Vogel St. )
When, as I say, I began to think seriously about these minor games in a community centre context, I speedily reached the conclusion that the Naenae community centre planners should endeavour to break right away from the traditional "minor games" pattern, as it is found in New Zealand. In this country, apart from tennis, croquet, and bowls, there are practically no outdoor games for
those who for reasons of sex, age, or simple disinclination do not play football, cricket, or other major games. Moreover, those three games are almost invariably under club control, which means that participation in them is restricted to club members who under the best of circumstances can comprise only a very small part of the population. Club control means, too, that the followers of each game form a special class, croquet being played by the older women, bowls by the older men, and tennis by the younger people. As few can afford to join more than one club, each player is in practice confined to his one game, no matter how much he might like to have a go at the others from time to time.
Thus, from the point of view of the community as a whole, minor games as found in New Zealand have little of value to offer. Their range is very limited, and their use restricted to a minority.

A Community Centre Is For Everyone

Now, if provision for minor games is to form part of community centre planning, it is essential that a break be made from the restricting tradition referred to above In general and as a matter of principle, every facility of a community centre should be available to every member of the community it serves, and this rule should apply to outdoor facilities just as much as it applies to the use of indoor facilities for recreation, drama, study, and so on. The question was, how to secure this desirable end in the field of minor games.
Fortunately, when I came to look into the literature on the subject I found the solution ready to hand. I had been assured most definitely by New Zealand sportsmen that there was no alternative to club control and organisation for outdoor games. But I quickly learned that in the United States of America many towns and cities provide and maintain as a civic function, community playgrounds whose facilities are not only very varied but are open to everyone. In these public playgrounds are played not only tennis, croquet, and bowls but paddle tennis, quoits, horseshoes, volleyball, deck tennis and other games which, although for the most part unknown in this country, appear to be very popular and widespread in the United States.

A Playground Plan for Naenae

With this example before me I immediately set myself to work out a tentative plan for the development of the six acres section (already referred to) as a genuine community playground. I included in the plan provision for all the minor games named above, and others as well, including the excellent games of squash racquets and handball. Then I set aside a space for the children of primary school age, with special facilities including modern playground apparatus of a more useful and attractive type than is normally found in New Zealand. A space for pre-school children, and a creche, would make it possible for parents to leave their youngest ones in safe hands while they themselves enjoyed the facilities for adults.
In the centre of my plan I sketched in a lawn where the whole family could foregather, meet their friends, and enjoy in the sunshine a cup of tea served from a community-operated tea-shop nearby, The section would be carefully landscaped so that in addition to providing recreation for everyone, the playground would have beauty and charm. The whole would be recognised as an integral part of the community centre.
When I had competed my tentative plan I discussed it with the Naenae Community Centre Committee. The Committee were quick to appreciate its virtues and they endorsed the principles on which it was based. It was agreed that such a community playground should be included in the long-range proposals for Naenae community centre development. There was, of course, no possibility of proceeding immediately with such an ambitious scheme.
At the same time, I submitted the scheme to the Wellington office of the Physical Welfare and Recreation Branch. They were quite enthusiastic about its possibilities. They agreed that there was as yet nothing like it in New Zealand but that its principles had been well tested in America. The successful development of such a playground in Naenae, they said, would point the way to filling a notable gap in the field of community recreation in this country.

An Experimental Naenae Playground

For a year or so I put the playground project to one side. By July 1949, however, the time seemed ripe for beginning to think
about it again. The long-awaited Governmental approval of the Naenae Community Centre had now been received, the preparation of legislation was under way, and it was confidently thought that fey the end of the year the special rating scheme would be in operation and ample finance would shortly be available for practical community centre development.
Could a small-scale, experimental community playground be established, to fill immediate recreational needs and test certain principles?
Adjacent to the Naenae School was a section of municipal land which seemed just the site for such a small-scale, experimental playground. I felt that the City Council would be willing to permit its use for this purpose, and I had reason to believe, too, that the School Committee would make available part of the grounds of the School. So I drafted a detailed scheme which became the Naenae Community Playground.
This first, experimental playground, as I conceived it, would provide two types of service. In the first place, for everyone over primary school are there would be a wide range of minor games comprising paddletennis, padderminton, deck tennis, volleyball, quoits, horseshoes, and American croquet. (These games were so varied in character that everyone - of any age, sex, or playing capacity - would be able to find at least one to suit his or her tastes.) Secondly, for the younger people from five to twelve years or thereabouts, there would be special supervised games of a type known to be popular with children and employing rubber balls, basket balls, ropes, sticks, and so on.
Thus on a necessarily limited scale, the Playground would have something to offer everyone from the age of five upwards.

Scheme Secures Support of Naenae Committee, City Council, Internal Affairs Dept., and Education Dept.

I submitted my tentative plans for criticism to the Physical Welfare and Recreation Branch of the Internal Affairs Department and to the Physical Education Branch of the Education Department. Both these Branches heartily approved my proposals and agreed that the principles involved were sound. They readily accepted my invitation
to get behind the project with practical professional assistance.
The Naenae Community Centre Committee also gave its approval and agreed to sponsor the Playground as an essential aspect of community centre activity, as, later, did the City Council Community Centre Committee and the City Council itself. Indeed the Council promised to underwrite certain of the expenses on behalf of the Naenae Committee and to put the grounds in order and provide part of the equipment.
The Naenae School Committee agreed to the use for Playground purposes of a section of the asphalt surface of the school grounds. A request was also made to the Committee for the use of its grass playing-field for the children of primary school age, but this was not granted. I shall have more to say of this later.
The Internal Affairs Department, when invited by the City Council to help financially, generously provided £150 towards the cost of the games equipment required - volleyballs, horseshoes, quoits, bats and balls, nets, and so on.

The Leaders Group

From the very beginning it was agreed by everyone concerned that the success of such a novel project as the proposed Playground must very largely depend upon local leadership. It was by no means sufficient merely to make available the various games facilities to the people of the community. General supervision of the Playground would at all times be necessary and, in particular, there would be need of expert instruction in the various games most of which, although well-known and popular elsewhere - notably in the United States - were new to New Zealand. Thus a primary task of those engaged in organising the Playground was the recruiting of a group of Naenae people interested in the project and willing to give regularly of their time to assist its development.
I had had preliminary discussions on this question of local leadership with Mr S. V. Higgins, officer in charge of the Wellington office of the Physical Welfare and Recreation Branch, Internal Affairs Department, and with Mr D. R. Wills, Superintendent of the Physical Education Branch, Education Department. (Those two officers
were both keen supporters of the playground project.) As a result they agreed that they and their Departmental officers would undertake the training of two groups of Naenae volunteers in playground practice, Mr Higgins' group to be instructed in the rules and methods of play of the "court games" for the adults and older children, and Mr Wills' group in the games which were proposed for the children of primary school age. With this training, these local volunteers would be equipped to play their part in the supervision, administration, and general conduct of all aspects of the Playground.
My next step was to set about interesting a number of Naenae residents, both men and women, in joining one or other of the leaders groups. I found a ready - indeed quite an enthusiastic - response; most of those I spoke to agreed that the idea of a playground for all ages and sexes, without restrictions of club membership or other bars to active participation in games playing, was a good one and one that they would be happy to support.
With a couple of dozen names on my list, I next arranged for a meeting of all the volunteers to form a leaders' organisation. The meeting was held at the end of August and formally set up what was called the Naenae Community Playground Leaders Group. Councillor E. J. B. Matthews was elected Patron, Mr G. W. McGregor Chairman, and Mr J. Reed Hon. Secretary.

Departmental Assistance Given and Promised

Under the tutelage of Mr Higgins and Mr Wills and their Departmental colleagues classes were held for about three months, on Monday evenings and Saturday mornings, in both the theory and practice of playground leadership. By the end of that period the members of the Leaders Group were in a fair way to becoming proficient instructors and games supervisors.
In addition to providing a course in playground leadership training, Mr Higgins promised that one of his staff would be in attendance whenever the Playground was open during the coming summer season. (It was planned to open on Saturdays only. ) Mr Wills also offered to help in the same way, but for a limited periof of three or four Saturdays only. It was appreciated that the continuing
assistance of the professionals would be most valuable, indeed essential to the fullest success of the project.

Preliminary Tasks Completed

The Grand Opening of the Naenae Community Playground was arranged for Saturday, 19th November. By that date the following had been done:-
The Reserves Department of the Lower Hutt City Council had levelled and grassed the main playing surface, had erected a stop-fence for the volleyball courts, and had prepared the quoits and horseshoe pitches. The cost of this was in the neighbourhood of £500.
The Leaders Group had completed its courses of leadership training.
The Leaders Group had prepared the paddletennis courts by erecting wire guards over the adjacent schoolroom windows, installing net posts, and marking out the courts on the asphalt surface.
Equipment for the following games had been secured; (in many cases this equipment had to be specially designed and manufactured) volleyball (3 courts), American croquet (3 courts), deck tennis (3 courts), padderminton (3 courts), horseshoes (4 pitches), quoits (l pitch), paddletennis (4 courts). Miscellaneous ropes, basket fells, rubber balls, etc. for use by the primary school children had been obtained, The value of this equipment was about £175, of which the Internal Affairs Department contributed £150.
The courts for the above games had been planned and laid down on the playing grounds.

Playground Is Opened

The Playground was formally and jointly opened on Saturday, 19th November, by His Worship the Mayor of Lower Hutt, Mr W. C. Gregory, and the Right Hon. W. Nash, Member of Parliament for Hutt. The Opening had been well publicised, and although the attendance of Naenae residents was not as great as had been hoped for nevertheless it was realised that new things take time to "catch on".

Mr Parry's Message

Hon. Mr W. E. parry, Minister of Internal Affairs and a well-known enthusiast for physical recreation, had been invited but was unfortunately unable to be present. However he sent a message, which was read by the Chairman to the gathering. Here is Mr Parry's message

Message To the People of Naenae
On the Occasion Of the Opening Of the Naenae Community Playground

I have always watched with keen interest the growth of recreational activities in Naenae, so that it is a great disappointment to me not to be able to attend the official opening of the Community Playground.
When I say that I believe that the opening will mark the beginning of a recreational movement with implications not only for Naenae, but for the whole of New Zealand, you will understant just how sorry I am that prior commitments prevented me from being with you today.
Today's opening represents the culmination of a grand coordinated effort in which the community, the local authority, and Government agencies have worked together for the common good. The result is an extremely valuable community facility; easily accessible to all and providing a really wonderful variety of recreational games and pastimes on a comparatively small area of land.
Personally, I would like to see such a playground in every community in New Zealand. A place, that is, where the whole family can play without the necessity of disbanding and travelling off in various directions to recreation areas far from their homes; a place where trained recreational leadership and sound equipment are readily available, and somewhere to spend those long summer evenings in health-producing pastimes in the open air.
Recently I saw a Canadian documentary film entitled "Fitness Is a Family Affair"; this film depicted the growth of a fine spirit of community recreation and amply justified its title.
Today will show conclusively that the same spirit which actuated our Canadian cousins is also alive in this country and that the people of Naenae are pioneering a trail which will lead many thousands of New Zealanders to happy and healthy use of leisure.
Especially to be commended are those persons who have come forward for training either by the Physical Welfare Branch of the Education Department, as voluntary leaders for adult and children's activities respectively. These voluntary leaders typify the spirit which has prompted the activities over the past few years, of the Lower Hutt community centre movement, the efforts of which have deserved, and have received, every assistance from both the Government and the Lower Hutt City Council. Such assistance will be continued, and I am sure that the efforts of the organisers will not flag. It remains for you - who form the community - to make full use of this recreation area. May you all find time for long hours of happiness and healthy exercise in the playing of the games provided. You can be sure that I will endeavour to make up for my absence today by taking the first possible opportunity to see the Community Playground in full operation.
W. E. Parry,
Minister of Internal Affairs
Even allowing for certain exaggeration here and there, one might reasonably infer from this statement that both Parry and his Department recognised the value of the Naenae Community Playground as an experiment in community recreation and were prepared to give it any necessary assistance within their powers.

Failure of the Playground

I now find it sad to have to record that despite all the soundly-based preparatory work which had been done, and despite Mr Parry's optimistic forecast of success, the Naenae Community Playground in a very short time proved a failure. By that I mean that the games facilities which had been planned and prepared were not used by
the people of Naenae.
Before enquiring into the causes of this failure I must set down what I had always regarded as essential conditions for the success of the Naenae Community Playground. (I am not, suggesting that they are sufficient conditions.) These essential conditions are:-
Continuous and adequate publicity must be maintained throughout the playing season.
All the games facilities must be kept in attractive playing condition.
Sufficient personnel must be on hand at all times for instruction in and supervision of the games.
Tournaments, competitions, and so on must be organised and efficiently run off.
I shall say a word about each of these.
Adequate publicity.
Well-thought-out, and continuous, publicity is essential especially in the early stages of any community project which, like the Naenae Community. Playground, involves radical departures from existing patterns. It is a fact that with new things most people are slow in the uptake. It was not sufficient to tell the people of Naenae in a leaflet or two and certain pre-opening publicity in the Hutt News (as was done) about the plans for the Playground. In order to get them to grasp the fact that there was a Community Playground, that its facilities were available to everyone, and that the games offered healthful and pleasant recreation, it was most important to supplement initial announcements with a continuous flow of carefully prepared publicity extending over the whole of the playground season and reaching all members of the community. Any social worker knows that this is so.
Maintenance in attractive playing condition of the Playground
Naturally enough, people will not patronise a Playground unless its facilities are efficiently maintained - the grounds must be kept attractive and the games courts properly laid out
and available according to time-table. A slovenly appearance of the Playground, with late starts and many courts out of use will certainly discourage popular support.
Personnel in attendance for instruction, etc.
It has already been stressed how essential it is that instructors be on hand to teach newcomers and beginners the rules and methods of play of the games, and to encourage them to overcome initial - and natural - diffidence in tackling something in recreation that they have never done before.
Organisation of tournaments, etc.
After having acquired the rudiments of a game, most people find that their enjoyment in play is greatly enhanced if an element of competition is introduced. This means that tournaments, ladders, etc. must be organised and run off in an efficient manner.
Unless all these conditions are satisfied a project like the Naenae Community Playground has no chance of success.
Let us see, now, to what extent these conditions were in fact satisfied.
After the introductory announcements which were released before the formal opening of the Playground, there was literally no further publicity. The result was that most residents failed to realise the existence, purpose, and availability of the Playground.
Maintenance of Playground facilities.
After the opening day, on 19th November, full facilities for play were never available. At no time were the quoits and horseshoe pitches in condition for use. Padderminton courts were (with the exception of one day when I personally saw to it) never laid out. The facilities for such popular games as American croquet and paddletennis, which would certainly have been used to capacity, were only partially made available. All in all, almost from the beginning, the Naenae Playground
presented an aspect of neglect and amateurish lack of organisation which could not fail to discourage patronage by the local people.
Leadership personnel in attendance
Practically from the beginning there were not enough leaders in attendance. No arrangements were made for rostering the members of the Leaders Group or to see to it that sufficient of them were on hand each Playground day. No steps were taken to maintain the cohesion of the Leaders Group. The result was that most members of the Group lost interest and ceased to take any part in the Playground arrangements.
Organisation of tournaments, etc.
No attempt at all was made to organise tournaments, competitions, or other formal play.
In a word, none of the four essential conditions for success were in any material degree satisfied, with the natural result that the Playground did not secure the support of the Naenae residents and the project had to be considered a failure.

Basic Cause of Failure

The basic cause for the non-fulfiment of those four conditions, and therefore the basic cause of the failure of the Playground, was the withdrawal from community work in Naenae of Mr N. T. Haig and myself. This playground project was one of those to which I referred in the previous chapter, which because of their novelty, ambitiousness, and, scale require exceptional leadership. In the planning and organisational stages of the Naenae Playground, until the time of the formal opening in November, I myself supplied that leadership, with results that were almost wholly satisfactory.
But after the opening, top leadership was just as necessary in the new phase - the phase of Playground management and popularisation. Mr Haig and I were both intending to take active parts in this new phase. The arranging of publicity, the maintenance of interest and cohesion in the Leaders Group so that not only would the attendance of the leaders have been held at a satisfactory level but the provision and care of games facilities kept up to
the mark, and the development of competitions and tournaments would all have been taken in our stride. I do not mean to say that we would personally have done everything ourselves, but I do mean to say that we would have provided the essential stimulus and direction. We knew how, and had the necessary "go" to get results from co-operation with those in the community willing to help but dependent upon leadership and guidance.
It was never contemplated that the Leaders Group would at any time find themselves in a situation requiring them to shoulder full responsibility for the maintenance as a going concern of the Naenae Playground. When I organised the Group, I did so fully confident that both Mr Haig and myself would continue to be available to supply leadership. Indeed, had I known (back in July and August 1949 when I was first proposing the development of the Naenae Playground) that by the following Christmas we would both be out of the picture, I would not for a moment have recommended or proceeded with the proposal. For I could see with sufficient clarity that the chances of any group of average local citizens making - unaided - a success of such a trail-blazing scheme as a community playground on the bold lines I had in mind were vanishingly small.
Thus for the actual failure of the Naenae scheme no one can justly blame the Naenae Leaders Group. They would have made excellent "lieutenants". But when - against all expectations - they were suddenly thrown wholly upon their own resources, the job became too much for them. They had truly been let down.

Who Was Responsible for Withdrawal of Leadership?

To get to the bottom of the failure of the Naenae Community Playground project, we must therefore ask, Who was responsible for the withdrawal of Haig and myself from community leadership in Naenae?
First of all, regarding Mr Haig. I have already described the efforts made to secure Mr Haig's retention in the Naenae community centre movement; how Mr Thomson, Officer for Higher Education in the Education Department, agreed to give certain assistance which would have made it possible for Mr Haig to accept the acting-directorship of the Naenae Centre; and how at the last minute Mr Thomson without explanation broke his agreement with the result
that the acting-directorship proposal could not be gone on withe Mr Thomson, therefore, shares decisive responsibility for the failure of the Naenae Community Playground.
And there is no excuse for Mr Thomson on the grounds of ignorance of the issues involved or of the actual situation in Naenae. He knew very well that leadership of the Naenae Community Playground would have been one of the important duties of the acting-director of the Naenae Centre. When I interviewed him regarding the appointment of a director I expressly stated that this would be the case. And the formal application to the Education Department from the Lower Hutt City Council Community Centre Committee explicitly referred to the Playground development as an important aspect of community centre activity in Naenae.
Mr Thomson knew, too, that his own Department - through Mr Wills and the Physical Education Branch - was already taking part in the playground development. One might have thought that Departmental loyalty - if nothing else - would have caused him to be inclined to back up the work of his colleagues in any way within his power - specifically, by carrying out his undertaking to make Mr Haig's services available as acting-director of the Naenae Centre and therefore as a leader for the Playground.
Mr Thomson was one of those who attended by invitation the formal opening of the Playground. As I have already said, the attendance of Naenae citizens on that occasion was disappointingly small. Mr Thomson was heard to make certain very disparaging remarks regarding that fact, to the detriment of the spirit of the Naenae residents, It thereafter came to be believed in Naenae community centre circles that the impressions he gained that day provided Mr Thomson with a reason for withdrawing his support from the acting-directorship proposal. If this is the case (and it is inherently likely) it indicates - if I may say so - an essentially bureaucratic outlook on Mr Thomson's part to the problems of community development. Those with little or no experience of field work in social service are all too apt to be intolerant of human imperfections and, in such a case as the Naenae Playground, if the people of the community fail instantly to show appreciation and gratitude, to conclude that
nothing further should be done for them and that they should be left to stew in their own juice.
Such is a most unjust attitude. If Mr Thomson were convinced that the Naenae Community Playground scheme was essentially sound (and he had the testimony of his Departmental colleague Mr Wills to this effect) then he should have reacted to any initial indifference or lack of support on the part of the residents whom the scheme was designed to serve, by saying: "Well, even if the response of these residents is so far not all we think it should be, nevertheless that is no reason at all for not continuing to make every effort to make the scheme a success. Indeed, early setbacks and disappointments should serve merely as an extra inducement to redoubled efforts. Let's get on with the job.'"
And anyway, Mr Thomson and everyone else in social work knows that you can't introduce new patterns of behaviour into the average community and expect them to be adopted overnight.
Mr Thomson's part in the withdrawal of essential leadership from the Naenae community is all the more inexcusable because of his long association with the Naenae community centre project, of which the Playground was a part. Mr Thomson had been a member of the planning committees from their very inception, back in 1946. The part that he has now played in killing the Playground project and jeopardising the future of the scheme for the community centre as a whole is thoroughly to be deplored.

My Own Withdrawal

Once or twice already I have hinted that difficulties were arising in my own situation as a social worker in Naenae. I shall discuss these difficulties at length in the next chapter. For my present purposes however I must say a word about them here.
On a number of occasions, when my position as a public servant was under discussion in official circles, it was suggested that as far at least as my community centre activities were concerned, I would be more suitably employed in the Internal Affairs Department than where I actually was - the Marketing Department.
This point of view was more than once put to the Under-Secretary for Internal Affairs, Mr A. G. Harper, with a suggestion that he
should accept me as a member of his staff to continue as before my community work in the Hutt Valley. On each occasion however Mr Harper refused, saying
I had no qualifications or experience in the type of work I was doing,
There already were plenty of officers in his Department fully qualified to do this work and who would be ready to do it if for any reason I were unable to continue.
My affairs eventually (during the time of my development of the Playground scheme) reached the point where there was a choice of my being accepted by Mr Harper as an Internal Affairs Department officer or my complete withdrawal from community work in Naenae and the Hutt Valley. Mr Harper (although approached by both the Public Service Commission and Mr Nash on the matter) saw fit to refuse absolutely to agree to have me appointed to his Department. He must therefore to this extent be held responsible for my non-availability as a leader of the Naenae Community Playground and therefore for the failure of that project.
With Mr Harper (as with Mr Thomson) there can be no question of ignorance of the issues and needs involved. Mr Harper's Department was very closely associated with both the Naenae community centre scheme and with the subsidiary Playground scheme. As I have already noted, the Department of Internal Affairs had contributed several hundred pounds towards the expenses of these projects. The officers of the Physical Welfare and Recreation Branch had spent much time and energy in the training of the Leaders Group, had helped with the planning and organisation of the Playground from the earliest stages, and seemed to be fully in support of the scheme. And Mr Parry, in his Message to the Residents of Naenae, had shown that he as Minister was deeply interested in the success of the Naenae Playground.
All this being so, it was surely a responsibility of Mr Harper's as head of his Department to do all possible to ensure the success of the Playground. He must have realised that the question of leadership was vital. He knew that I had been supplying an
essential part of that leadership. Therefore, when he refused to sanction the step necessary to enable me to continue as a leader, he should certainly have taken the alternative step of ensuring that my place was filled (both with regard to the Playground project and the community centre scheme as a whole). For he had already affirmed that "there were plenty of officers in his Department fully qualified to do this (community development) work (on which I was engaged) and who would be ready to do it if for any reason I were unable to continue."
But, on my departure, what steps did Mr Harper in fact take to fulfill this undertaking? None at all. Indeed, since last Christmas (1949) when Mr Haig and I withdrew, for all practical purposes no officer of his Department has been seen in the Naenae area. This is in striking contrast to the most valuable co-operation obtained from the Internal Affairs Department (Physical Welfare and Recreation Branch) during the time when Mr Haig and I were on the job.
Thus Mr Harper, by refusing to take that step which would have enabled me to continue leading the Naenae Community Playground project, and at the same time doing nothing to fill the vacancy left by my withdrawal, must share (with Mr Thomson) decisive responsibility for the failure of the Playground experiment.

Secondary Cause of Failure

Apart from the crucial withdrawal of top leadership, in the persons of Mr Haig and myself, the fact that the Physical Welfare and Recreation Branch failed to honour its undertaking to have one of its officers in attendance, for general expert assistance, every Saturday that the Playground was open throughout the summer playing season, must be reckoned as a cause of Playground failure. Since the first Saturday or so after the formal opening, in November, no officer of that Branch made an appearance on any single occasion.
I am reluctant to make this criticism, because in the past the community centre movement in Naenae had received a great deal of encouragement and help from the Physical Welfare Branch for which I and my associates were very grateful. Nevertheless the fact remains - which cannot be ignored - that at the crucial stage of the
Playground development the Branch ceased to be interested and withdrew from the scheme.
I find this attitude inexplicable. I should have thought that both the Physical Welfare Branch and the Physical Education Branch of the Education Department would have been most keenly interested in the outcome of the Playground venture. They both in the planning stage had agreed that the project was one of major significance in the field of community recreation and they both had taken prominent and very helpful parts in the organisational and leader training stage. Yet, since the opening day, neither evinced the slightest curiosity as to the way things were going. (I except one interview I had with Mr Higgins of the Physical Welfare Branch, when I was at pains to acquaint him with the unsatisfactory course of developments.)
And while we are on the question of showing interest, it is necessary to record that at no time did either Councillor Matthews, Patron of the Naenae Community Playground Leaders Group, or Right Hon. Mr Nash, Member of Parliament for Hutt (including Naenae), visit the Playground after the opening day, nor make any enquiries, nor show concern for its success or failure.
To complete the record, I must finally state that the attitude of the Naenae School Committee had not been as friendly and as helpful as it could have been. It is true that the Committee had been generous in permitting the use of part of the school asphalt playing surface for paddletennis courts, for which the Playground organisers were grateful; but the Committee were the reverse of generous in refusing the use of the grass playing field for the use of the primary school children. The opposition to this proposal, led by the headmaster Mr F. A. Long, was based on the fear that these children, during the two or three hours on Saturdays that the Primary School Children's part of the playground would be in use, would destroy the grass surface.'

The Playground Was an Experiment

Throughout this discussion I have spoken loosely of the "causes
of failure" of the Naenae Community Playground. I must not be misunderstood: I am not maintaining that in the absence of those causes the project would necessarily have been a success. I, personally, was always very hopeful, but I and I think everyone else regarded the project essentially as an experiment, whose outcome no one could foretell with certainty.
But a social experiment such as this is valueless and had better never be undertaken, unless it is given a fair chance to succeed. If certain factors are regarded as conditions of success, one must not be surprised if failure is met after an alteration or negation of those conditions.
In the case of the Naenae Playground the conditions were transformed in the middle of the experiment. Thus all that one can say is that under the new conditions the experiment proved a failure. If the conditions had remained unaltered - if, that is, top leadership had been maintained, and the continuing assistance expected from State Departments had in fact been received - then there is no knowing what the result might have been. It might have been a complete vindication of the whole conception of community recreation which underlay the playground project.
As things have turned out, however, the tragedy of the affair is that there will now be a facile tendency in various influential quarters to say, "Well, the playground had a trial and proved a failure. It seems therefore that New Zealand people don't like this kind of thing and that, after all, existing patterns are best. We'd better stick to the old ways."
And if, in the future, anyone else comes along and says, "Let's try to organise one of those community playgrounds that are so popular in America, where the whole family can take part in all kinds of games, informally and sociably, without having to join clubs or whatnot or buy expensive individual equipment"; then someone else is sure to say, "Oh, they tried that in Naenae, and it didn't work. No use wasting our time and money. New Zealanders don't like that kind of thing." Thus effectually blocking all progress.
It would have been a far better thing if the Naenae Community playground had never been thought of.

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