Bench set ablaze, safety surfaces ripped up, and trees damaged by vandals at Highfield Park

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Vandals damaged plants, ripped up safety surfaces and set a bench ablaze in a South Shore park at the weekend.

 

The willow dome which was damaged

The willow dome which was damaged

The Friends of Highfield Park group was alerted to the ‘devastation’ at the park off Highfield Road on Saturday, when it was reported there had been some minor damage to a willow dome which the group installed five years ago.

But worse was yet to come, as that night they received further reports of an arson attack that destroyed a bench and left the surrounding grassy area scorched.

Karen Pennington, who is the secretary and treasurer of the Friends group, said: “At approximately 10pm on Saturday night, a group of youngsters, possibly as young as 13 or 14-years-old, decided to set fire to one of the picnic benches that have been on the park for seven years.

The remains of the torched bench at Highfield Park

The remains of the torched bench at Highfield Park

“According to others, a group had tried earlier in the day but when seen they cleared off and obviously came back when they couldn’t be seen. There have been numerous reports of a group of youths running off the park, down Highfield Road towards Tesco, while a distressed young girl in a white dress was seen running from the park followed by three youths on bikes, all screaming after her.

“Whoever set fire to the inflammable picnic bench obviously had some sort of accelerant to light such a fire. Somebody must have seen whoever was responsible and the youths must have gone home smelling of smoke or indeed accelerant on their clothes, so someone in the community must know something.

“Someone rang the fire brigade just after 10pm as far as we know, but it’s a shame somebody didn’t also ring the police.”

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Karen said: “Apparently some young children, who were with their parents, decided to attack the safety surface under the climbing frame – something that they have probably seen others doing previously – but their parents sat by and ignored the damage until a passer-by pointed it out to them as the rubber crumb was strewn across the play area.”

Blackpool South MP Scott Benton said he was ‘very sorry’ to see the damage done to the park, and urged anyone with information to come forward.

The vandalism comes at a particularly difficult time for the Friends group, as Karen and her husband, chairman Gary Pennington, are due to stand down from their leading roles as they are suffering ‘long Covid’ 11 months after being diagnosed with the virus.

Karen said: “Who knows what the future holds for the Friends group. There has been some interest from another local organisation, but the group definitely needs more people who care about the park to attend their annual general meeting.”

The meeting will take place at 7pm on Tuesday, September 28, at The Hub.

Karen and Gary said: ““Obviously this is not how we wanted to leave the group and at such an upsetting time. Over our 15 years with the hard-working committee, we have all raised over £150,000. We have held numerous community fun days, made numerous improvements, and held many free activities and sports sessions. It is very sad that, after all the Friends work, this has happened, affecting the whole Highfield community.”