Kim is the daughter of the late Rooney Martin and Ron Martin who together founded Somerville Adventure Playground. Kim was born in Haydon House, Kender Street, close the playground and remembers the area when she was a child; “New Cross got quite a lot of bomb damage during the war1, so this was a bombsite area. It wasn ’t anywhere nearly as built up as it is now”.
Around 1969, Rooney and Ron Martin were volunteering on a play scheme at St Catherine’s Church on Telegraph Hill, helping to organise days out for local children. Kim remembers helping out on the trips as a teenager, “We used to do trips out for the day and people would bring their children to the top of the hill. We’d take them to the park or somewhere”. Kim says that these activities were the beginnings of her mum’s involvement in the community.
“When I was young, the adventure playground itself, the land that it’s on, was all bombsite from the war. New Cross got quite a lot of bomb damage…As I grew up, we played out a lot and we played on these sites.”
The play scheme highlighted the need for a local space to play. Volunteers knew about an adventure playground in Pimlico and had ideas to “get hold of this bit of land and do the same”, so the play scheme committee applied to Lewisham Council for the use of the site.2 At first, the playground site was open and was run by volunteers. Ron was working full time, and getting enough volunteers to open the site was challenging. Rooney became involved with the neighbourhood council, now 170 Community Project, and it was the community worker from there who became instrumental in getting funding for a worker for the playground.3
Kim says that it was the friends and colleagues of her parents, who were involved in community work, that “helped get it all together…who came to help build the structures and put the hut together. It was local people that came together to build it”. It was also these people who formed the first playground committee.
Although the playground site was used from around 1969, it was officially opened in 1971. Kim remembers that in the early days, her mother organised for European students to volunteer during the holidays, and arranged for them to stay in the church. In 1976, Hanneke Nicholson, an art teacher from Holland, began working with Ron. They worked together for more than 15 years. Kim says, “her and my dad worked as a team”.
“It was always about somewhere creative and free for children to play and that they could do that without hindrance from adults…and where children could express themselves and learn to socialise over genders, backgrounds and cultures.”
While the area has seen many changes, Kim says the children and young people who use the playground today are still “typically inner-city children” and Somerville still maintains its tradition of engaging young people with art and creative activity. Many still lack access to outdoor space at home and are looking for a safe and friendly place and meet up
Rooney Martin has a plaque in the town hall, remembering her valuable contribution to the community in Lewisham. Ron Martin has a plaque at Somerville and is remembered in Ron Martin Hall in the new building. Kim is still involved with Somerville, working particularly with young people on art and craft activities.
“My mum, she started this with such a passion to have this space and my dad carried it on… My dad…is a very humble man and I don’t think he appreciates what he’s done.”
1 The Second World War 1939-1945