Edinburgh Council accused of colluding with commercial interests as children are blocked from playing football in public park

Community group Edinburgh Helping Hands pledges that “working class kids will not be excluded from their own green public spaces by commercial, profit making interests”

EDINBURGH CITY COUNCIL has been accused of colluding with commercial interests after denying children access to a public park to take part in free football sessions organised by a volunteer community group.

Edinburgh Helping Hands, an all-volunteer group which offers workshops in football and boxing to children aged 8 to 16 and partly funded by Scottish author Irvine Welsh, expressed its anger at the situation earlier this week when it published its correspondence with Edinburgh City Council on their Facebook page “in the interests of transparency.”

The council argued that Helping Hands cannot host football sessions at Edinburgh’s Cairtows Park in Craigmillar, on the grounds that permission would need to be obtained before any such event could be allowed. This permission was withheld, as the timing of the football sessions clashed with those of the Castlevale Youth Development Club.

However, Helping Hands have stated that the Council’s claim regarding Castlevale’s right to use the park is “factually incorrect. We know this because we have a copy of the lease!”

“Quite clearly, the council colluded with a commercial venture.” Edinburgh Helping Hands representative Bradley Welsh

A spokesperson for Edinburgh City Council told CommonSpace: “Edinburgh Helping Hands provides free community football sessions in Edinburgh. It’s a positive scheme which the Council is very supportive of. However, on this occasion, the organisers have not approached us for permission to host these summer football sessions. This has resulted in a clash with an existing lease arrangement we have with a football club.

“Like anyone who wishes to host events in public parks, we ask Helping Hands to formally apply for permission so that we can monitor exactly what activities are taking place where, when, and with who. It is very important that we have an overview of events taking place so that we can properly manage the area and avoid such clashes.”

Speaking to CommonSpace, former boxing champion, founder of the Amateur Boxing Association Scotland charity and Helping Hands representative Bradley Welsh said: “We totally disagree with the council’s statement.

“Quite clearly, the council colluded with a commercial venture. This is a city-wide thing – the council don’t want the public to know that public parks are public. What they do is give them over to commercial lets, and the commercial let people who take them over seem to think that the land’s their own. And what they do is put nice fences around it, maintain the park, and psychologically exclude the local community – and sometimes physically exclude them.

“Helping Hands is about making the public understand: these are your parks.” Edinburgh Helping Hands representative Bradley Welsh

“Certainly, in the situation of Cairtows Park, the Castlevale club have been seen on many occasions removing children from the park, saying ‘We’re the only people who can play here.’

“Clearly, from the lease we managed to obtain, which the council don’t like – it should be a matter of public record – the lease clearly indicates that that’s not the case. Castlevale have been caught out lying about that.

“Cairtows Park is a public park. It’s managed by the council – it’s a community asset. They just decided that because they maintain it, that they’ve got ownership and they can commercialise it.”

Helping Hands have also claimed that a board member of Castlevale is also an employee of Edinburgh City Council, therefore constituting a conflict of interest. Edinburgh City Council was unable to firmly confirm or deny this when contacted by CommonSpace, while Castlevale did not respond to requests for comment.

“So,” Welsh continued, “we disagree with what the council have said; they’ve been caught out, they’ve not responded to any of the accusations that one of their members colluded with a commercial venture with the sole purpose of excluding Helping Hands.”

Welsh claims that Helping Hands know this because they are in receipt of messages between the Castlevale and a member of Edinburgh City Council.

Welsh said: “In November 2017, they asked the council: ‘Can you extend our lease onto the parks from 1pm to 8pm, so we can exclude Helping Hands?’ And the council agreed to that. We’ve got that in black-and-white. That’ll come out soon – we’re just getting starting with them.

“Again, Helping Hands are only about providing stuff for kids – we do not need permission from the local council. They’re wrong on that. We can galvanise the community, and that’s what we’ll continue to do.

“Helping Hands is about making the public understand: these are your parks.”

Speaking to the Edinburgh Evening News, a Castlevale YDC spokesperson said: “The club leases three pitches as well as a clubhouse from the city council. Castlevale is responsible for lining the pitches and takes pride in maintaining them to a high standard to allow our players to produce their best football.

“Castlevale YDC is simply the council tenant and the club has no influence over the use of the rest of the park or indeed any decision made by the council.”

Picture courtesy of mebrett