SIR, I would like to raise the subject of Scottish Borders Council allowing children, some as young as five-years-old, to be used by Earlston Community Development Trust (ECDT), in its attempt to secure funding from the Big Lottery for a play park at Mill Meadow.

On Wednesday, June 24, parents were informed by email from the Primary School, which a ballot was to take place, of all children within the TD4 postcode, which would happen on Friday, June 26. This was less than 48 hours notice given to parents. The actual ballot was an “opt-out” one, with parents having to inform the school if they did not wish their child to take part.

Following complaints to Scottish Borders Council, it transpires that this ballot was organised with ECDT, the head teacher and the Community Engagement Officer, whilst our Local SBC Councillors have claimed to have had no knowledge of the initiative. This, we are told, was all part of ECDT’s Engagement Plan within the local community. However, the Lottery, who are apparently financing the plan, claim not to have requested the involvement of children and that only those on the electoral roll are to be balloted, and only these votes will count in the final assessment on the level of community cohesion. After formal complaints were made to SBC, a statement was released by them at 9pm on Thursday night, stating that the school ballot was still going to ahead and quoting UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (Article 12 and 13), by way of justification. SBC also claim that this is part of the curriculum.

I am utterly appalled that SBC would allow an outside group, which has not been elected by the population of Earlston and is not connected in any way to the Primary School or SBC, to have been granted such open access.

The way, in which the ballot was conducted, children had to meet a certain criteria e.g. TD4 postcode, set down by ECDT, and those that did not meet the criteria were removed from the class, for this supposed lesson in Democracy to be conducted. I have to ask the question on how morally can this be acceptable for such young children to be used as pawns in an attempt to secure funding for a private project.

Discussions on the project have been going on for nearly two years now, and public opinion within Earlston has been deeply divided. The use of children has done nothing but aggravate the situation further. As yet ECDT have not publically spoken about this move, leaving it, yet again, up to others to do it for them, in this case SBC. A formal public statement by ECDT should now be made.

I am, etc.

John Eckford Earlston