We can confirm that the children and young people were recently given the opportunity to express their opinion on the Mill Meadow Play Park project through a school ballot. This ballot was arranged between ECDT, Community Engagement Officer and Community learning and Development worker to ensure it was conducted fairly and appropriately to meet the needs of this age group.

We absolutely refute Mr Eckford’s claim that ECDT ‘used’ school children to secure funding from the Big Lottery for a ‘private project’!

ECDT has worked hard to ensure that all members of Earlston has had the opportunity to be involved in our recent community engagement plan and this does not discriminate on the basis of age. Mr Eckford may not view the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child with much regard and consider it reasonable to allow children and young people to be involved in issues affecting themselves and their community but ECDT has an Equality policy we fully believe in.

The school ballots were presented in a format that could be easily understood by the children and ECDT were not present at the ballots. All primary school children were offered the opportunity to participate and all young people at Earlston High School that live in Earlston and wider TD4 area were invited to vote. Children from outside the area were not ‘removed’ from class as Mr Eckford suggests.

Mr Eckford also questions how this can be morally acceptable yet he fails to comment on the fact that children and young people signed a petition created by objectors to the park. This petition contained a complex, lengthy heading covering three separate issues that many adults have since admitted they weren’t aware of what they were actually signing, let alone children and young people.

ECDT are not an ‘outside group that has not been elected by the population of Earlston’. We are a registered charity and a legally constituted, voluntary organisation run by members of the Earlston community. Our aim is to improve and develop facilities within Earlston that can be owned and managed by the community. We are a membership organisation that is open to everyone in the Earlston area. Our Board and our wider membership are all residents. As with other constituted groups there is a public AGM where the wider membership appoints the Board. As with every development trust we are a community organisation owned and managed by the local community. We are fully accountable to our community in line with our constitution and charitable status.

ECDT respect the views and input from all members of the community and understand that these can often differ between individual residents. We have been committed to ensuring that our recent engagement plan seeks to determine the views of the majority of the community which will be ascertained through the wider community ballot and the results of which will be upheld. The school ballot will form part of our final report to the Big Lottery as we respect the views of all ages; this ballot will be presented separately in our report and will not be added to the community ballot.

ECDT believe that children and young people should enjoy as much respect within their community as adult residents receive. Our children and young people are valuable members and the future of Earlston, by involving them in decisions we are encouraging their participation and ownership of the village so that they are supported to take an active interest in creating an inclusive community.

Many towns and villages in Scottish Borders and Scotland wide have created beautiful parks near rivers and busy roads and children and families have been managing these risks and accessing these for many years. Jedburgh has just announced plans to create a new skate park located between Jed Water and the A68. Why should Earlston residents be denied an opportunity for a £300,000 investment to create a country style park accessible to all – are we not able to manage risks as successfully as other communities?

I recently visited a park in a different town and was extremely saddened to see a young boy in a wheel chair that was unable to access any play equipment within the park. Instead he sat and watched as his peers played. I was utterly dismayed at the discrimination this child experienced, as do so many across the country.

The park that ECDT hope to create would pave the way to putting an end to this disadvantage that people with disabilities experience on a daily basis and provide an opportunity for all generations and all abilities to enjoy Mill Meadow together.

ECDT are not villains, but hard working volunteers. We recognise that for many residents Mill Meadow may not be the preferred location for the park, but it remains the only location available to create this resource. We wish it were possible to find the perfect, available location that everyone would feel happy with and would fit the outcomes for the project, however this cannot be achieved and we must work with the space we have available or lose out on this investment altogether.

I am, etc.

Sarah Petrie ECDT Trustee.