Hampstead Heath Extension play area set to open next year – thanks to Olivia

Olivia White has designed a new playground for the Hampstead Heath Extension

Olivia White has designed a new playground for the Hampstead Heath Extension - Credit: Sally Patterson

A new playground is set to open in the Hampstead Heath Extension next September thanks to a schoolgirl’s campaign. 

Olivia White began fundraising for a new play area last year by selling jam made of berries she had picked

Working with the City of London Corporation (CoCL), which manages the Heath, Olivia has developed plans to build the new children’s adventure playground.  

The 10-year-old told this paper: “I am very excited and feel that I’ve achieved my goal. 

“It’s quite hard work, but I’m happy about how far it’s come and am looking forward to raising more money for the park.” 

Chair of the City of London Corporation’s Hampstead Heath management committee Anne Fairweather said: “My colleagues and I at Hampstead Heath are delighted to be working with Olivia and other local people to improve the playground, which includes broadening the age range of the play equipment, introducing natural play features, and making sure that the area is accessible for everyone who wants to use it. 

“The playground is a very popular space for children and young families, so it makes perfect sense that children like Olivia should be able to offer their ideas about how to make it even better.” 

plans of playground

The plans include new swings, climbing frames and picnic benches - Credit: City of London Corporation

Olivia and her parents have now met with the CoLC seven times, both in person and online, to decide on the plans and costs of the venture. 

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Mum Elizabeth Deheza said: “There were so many grown-ups there taking time out of their day to listen to a 10-year-old. 

“They were all taking notes – it was surreal to see so much dedication to a small kid talking.” 

Supported by CoCL's Declan Gallagher and Bob Warnock, Olivia has worked with a landscape architect to finalise plans for the site. 

At the end of last year, the corporation reprimanded Olivia for “foraging” in the park. 

She received an email that said: “Foraging berries can be damaging to biodiversity – wild animals and birds rely on the berries as a source of food. 

“It is also in breach of our byelaws which say you should not forage anything from the Heath.” 

However, Olivia persevered and even got her local MP on the case. 

Mike Freer, MP for Finchley and Golders Green, said he was “disappointed” with the CoLC’s “heavy-handed” response. 

He added: “What message are we sending to future generations if we discourage them from participating in community action projects by being overzealous in the application of red tape?” 

Now, Olivia’s hard work has paid off, and she is beginning to see the fruits of her labour. 

Olivia holding her jam

Hampstead resident Olivia has worked closely with the City of London Corporation to build a new play area - Credit: Sally Patterson

She explained: “At first they ignored me, but now they’re listening I have the confidence to complete my project.” 

Elizabeth added: “She doesn’t understand how big this is. She thinks it’s normal, but I’ve explained to her that this is quite unique. 

“She’s moved the needle from a ‘no’ to ‘here’s your private landscape architect’." 

Whilst deciding on the final playground design, Olivia sent handwritten notes to her neighbours asking for their suggestions, and worked with a landscape architect to design the perfect playground. 

The project is due to be completed in September 2022, once the existing play area has been removed, the ground resurfaced and new equipment has been secured. 

Olivia said they are trying to recycle and re-use material from the Heath, such as fallen trees and chopped wood. 

Elizabeth added: “All the materials will be in harmony with the natural landscape that the playground already has, so as not to disrupt it and have anything really modern." 

The total cost is estimated to be around £40,000, which will be divided between the CoLC, Hampstead Garden Residents’ Association and Olivia’s fundraising

Olivia's jam

Olivia has already started making jam to raise more donations - Credit: Sally Patterson

The 10-year-old will begin making more jam  from berries from the private woods behind the family’s home, and will also ask local shops to donate berries. 

In September, she hopes to engage local schools in the project, asking them to help raise the money needed to build the new play area. 

Visit www.wildwooders.uk to donate to Olivia's project.