After years of having nowhere for their children to play, a group of parents on the Isle of Coll got their hands dirty and built their own play park. 

An old play park had long ago been shut down, prompting the committee to come together and do something about it in 2019. 

Alison Jones was one of those who got involved in the Isle of Coll Play Park committee after being exasperated at the lack of space for her 8-year-old son and other local children to play in. 

“When our son was a baby, there was a playpark in Coll that was pretty worn down on quite boggy ground, and was eventually removed. After our town was left without a playpark, it got to the extent that family helped us buy a unit for the back garden, just so he had something that vaguely resembled a playpark,” Alison explained.

“People who have access to them daily probably don’t realise what a great benefit play parks are,” the mother added.

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For an island community like Coll, parks are particularly important due to their social aspect. Alison described how this was particularly pertinent to her son Harris: “The other thing that we had noticed with the old playpark was that our son was the youngest in our community - the nearest in age was three years older, so they were already in school and the playpark was a great place to meet visiting families.”

It took three years, with a pandemic in the middle, but the Isle of Coll committee managed to raise enough funds through events like dances and quizzes to be able to start constructing a park, with members from across the island community - both those who live there permanently and those who live there in the summer - contributing to their new space. 

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During the pandemic when building work could not be done the group focused on fundraising. One particularly popular way to do this was through online bingo sessions - a single session alone raised almost £900.

Coll is a tiny Hebridean island nearly 50 miles off the west coast of Scotland, with a population of just 160 residents. But it's returning visiting population gives it a unique angle for a project like this, says Alison: “Coll not only has a resident population, but it has this wider community who come here every year and we all know them - some of them have ancestry, some of them just love the island, and they were really keen through Covid, to meet online through zoom with people from the Coll community.”

The park was a real community project, with a £5000 donation coming from a local engineering company based near Oban.

The group managed to raise around £25,000 themselves, and most of this was done during Covid. 

“You had a captive audience, to some extent,” says Alison of the fundraising efforts which turned into something of a lockdown project. 

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The Scottish Government launched its Play Park Renewal scheme around the same time the group was looking to get started. The scheme gave money to every local authority in Scotland to renovate play parks - but only existing ones, so still with no park, Coll did not benefit. 

It also provided something in the form of a setback - given that many of the construction companies the committee had been speaking to then began saying they would be working on council park renovations for the coming few years. This meant refocusing and changing plans, according to Alison. 

When the builders could not get the project done in the timescale the committee had laid out - they rolled up their sleeves and built it themselves. 

Read more: Scotland's parks: Fund launched to safeguard green spaces

“It really has brought that wider sense of community as the kids are meeting children who are visiting too. It’s lovely on the island when people come in and you get to meet them and form friendships, because we have a small population and we see the same people all the time.

“It’s really nice for the kids to have that development of meeting other children and learning how to interact with other children. Because we’ve only got two of them in the early years department at the moment and four in the primary school - so they don’t get a great variety of interaction with other children unless it’s visiting children, so that’s a good life skill for them which the play park provides,” Alison explains. 

Another parent on the island, Kylie Langford, said: “There’s something magical about kids in a play park, particularly for an isolated community with a small number of kids. You can see it almost anywhere in the village, so it draws visitors in that play with the local kids. If you meet new families on the beach, the kids don’t necessarily interact. But when you’re at the play park, they all play together. 

“Just looking at it makes me feel how proud I am to be part of the community that built it completely by themselves. We fundraised it by ourselves, we dug the holes by ourselves, we got the dirt in our fingernails and splinters from the wood, it’s all completely built by the people of Coll for the people of Coll.”

The Herald is backing Parks4Life, a campaign raising funds to protect parks and greenspaces across Scotland to ensure their community benefits for years to come.