Churches being used as ‘playgrounds’

A Waringstown resident has suggested the village’s churches fence off their premises and install anti-climb devices to stop young people from congregating in their grounds.

It comes after crowds of young people have made the Church of Ireland and Presbyterian Church their ‘playgrounds’ of choice during the holidays.

A Mill Hill resident wrote to the paper to say: “This has now been going on for several weeks – since the end of term and will undoubtedly continue for the duration of the school holidays. It now appears to be the designated playground for the entire village with parents actually dropping off their children at the ‘venue’.

“They are obviously oblivious to the fact that these grounds are owned by the churches and are not skateboard parks, cycling arenas or adventure playgrounds. Both the churches have recently been advised by the PSNI that these youths are ‘trespassing’. It is a matter of regret to local residents that no attempt has been made by the churches to stop these unacceptable activities.”

The Waringstown resident said there was also a problem with older teenagers indulging in underage drinking on church premises. Among his suggestions to deter youths from getting onto church property were fencing and anti-climb devices. The resident’s full letter is on page 16.

Waringstown Church of Ireland Rector Rev Bryan Martin said: “We are aware of the situation and have taken steps to tackle it. Where suspicious activities are observed wardens will contact police and residents have been encouraged to do likewise.

“In terms of children playing in the church grounds, it is important to strike a balance between what is right in the eyes of the law and showing Christ’s love in the community by making the church and open and welcome.”

Presbyterian Church Rector Rev Philip Thompson commented: “The congregation would regret any difficulties people in the neighbourhood are experiencing.

“We endeavour to be good neighbours in all respects and this includes giving young people something to do over the summer, something other agencies are failing to do.

“Last week we had a Bible club for 160 children aged four to 11 and next week, along with the Church of Ireland, young people will be out in force for Glo tidy-up of the village.”

Rev Thompson said his door was always open to talk with anyone with concerns about the church.