We recently spoke to Emma Back, the Chief Executive of local charitable trust Winchester SALT (Sports, Arts and Leisure). Their vision is for Winchester to be a great place for people to live, relax, play and work. Here’s Emma’s thoughts on how a youth-friendly Winchester might achieve that mission for everyone.
Young people are central to Winchester’s identity. The city’s reputation as a great – or even “the best” – place to live is closely linked to its schools and the excellent results their students achieve. As well as all the children and young people living in Winchester, thousands more travel to attend the city’s well-regarded state and private schools, sixth form college, school of art and university. No wonder so many families want to move here.
Beyond education, however, Winchester’s infrastructure offers little to its youth.
The city’s only gig venue is licensed and age restricted. There are plenty of high-end brasseries, several golf courses, and a cinema charging £14 a ticket – but Winchester lacks the youth-oriented leisure facilities found in similar towns and cities, such as ten-pin bowling, high ropes or crazy golf. Ice skating appears for two months a year, though not in 2020. As yet, there are no dedicated venues for soft play, climbing, gymnastics or trampolining. Many such leisure facilities would thrive in Winchester, and there’s been plenty of interest expressed over the years. A vision for the city that encourages and enables such investment may be all that’s needed…
Beyond this, what might a youth-friendly Winchester look like? As Peter Brown has said, we could repurpose some existing spaces.
Could the Guildhall or Discovery Centre offer more for young audiences as we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic?
Could young people “take over” one of the city’s venues?
There are surely outdoor areas – such as courtyards between buildings – that could be adapted for the envisaged “new space for teens”, enabling young people to chat, eat and drink together. We could add street furniture and sculpture that is “skateable”, and artwork at ground-level that toddlers can interact with. We could invest in a network of wide and smooth off-road paths across the city. These would be safer and more pleasant for pedestrians and cyclists of all ages, but also suitable for people in wheelchairs or on mobility scooters, babies in pushchairs and infants on buggy boards, children on roller skates or scooters, and anyone using a hoverboard, e-scooter or whatever the next craze will be… We could protect our parks and playing fields, and invest in new free-to-use outdoor courts for basketball, futsal and tennis, with some covered seating areas nearby. When new housing comes, we could insist that developers build play areas first – rather than treating them as their final “obligation” to be met.
Above all, we must put young people at the heart of the new Vision for Winchester.
The team at One Great Win is working hard to capture youth perspectives. We should watch, listen and respond – and enable young people to get more involved, if they wish, in co-creating new spaces and shaping local plans. The future is theirs, after all.