Deserved honour for play fundraiser

North Walsham fundraiser Matthew Smith has had his work for the community recognised with the award of the MBE in the Queens 2019 Birthday Honours List.

The honour is for his work as business manager for Sheringham Woodfields School and founder and trustee of North Walsham Play, for services to children with special education needs and disabilities.

He said: “The letter arrived in early May so keeping it a secret has been a real challenge but it’s great to finally have this out in the open. I feel so humble to have been nominated and chosen. I have only ever done what I feel is right/best with the time and skills I have been given.”

He thanks the person or people who nominated him and added: “I must also say a massive thank you to my very understanding wife, two children and parents for all their support, advice and patience!”

He started his campaign to improve play provision in 2015 when his first son was a year old and he and his wife realised there was very little that their child would be able to grow up and enjoy within the town’s open spaces.

“North Walsham is the largest market town in North Norfolk and the play provision was very poor given this fact. But instead of moaning about it, or taking to Facebook to bash the council, I decided to see this as an opportuntiy and hence the registered charity North Walsham Play was formed in early 2016. Our aim has been to create accessible, fun and inclusive play parks for all.”

With a positive working relationship with North Walsham Town Council, the group has which has been able to do “amazing things”.

To date, in excess of £200,000 has been secured to allow for three new parks to be installed. The first was a small play park at Woodville within one of the town’s housing estates. “This small yet perfectly formed park was the first in the town to include equipment accessible to children in wheelchairs,” said Matthew.

The second project was a large £94,000 play park within the Memorial Park. “This large themed play park has amazing facilities that have been welcomed and enjoyed by many hundreds of families. The feedback has been amazing. Again, the park includes equipment accessible for children and adults in wheelchairs. All items are within the same park, there is no segregation or fencing off of certain items of equipment,” said Matthew.

The third park, to be installed in mid-July will see a state-of-the-art, 13-piece outside gym installed at the Memorial  Park. Four pieces of equipment will enable users to generate energy as they exercise allowing them to charge devices whilst exercising.

This plan has been supported by a large grant from Sheringham Shoal Fund (administered by the Norfolk Community Foundation) plus a grant from the Postcode Lottery Trust.

But he said: “We’re not stopping there. We are now focusing our efforts on a new skate park to replace the much-loved facility at Trackside. The current skate park has served us very well but its now time to look to the future. We have a consultation on Friday, July 12, 6pm at Costa Coffee for all who want to come and support (free food and drinks).”

And he added: “North Walsham Play has a brilliant and perfectly-assembled committee of dedicated volunteers. We might not be the biggest committee, but I think our track record speaks for itself. I couldn’t have done this on my own, so even though the award was given to me, there are many people who have helped make this possible.”

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