North Hinksey Parish Councillor Caroline Potter talks about the latest developments in Botley.

I’m a social anthropologist by academic background, and in that field we make a distinction between ‘space’ and ‘place’.

A space is a location in the physical environment, somewhere waiting to be discovered.

A place, meanwhile, is somewhere of cultural significance: a location to which people attach meaning and value.

When I moved to Botley 10 years ago I saw it as space, convenient for commuting to work and pleasant in its surroundings.

After my children arrived, the children’s centre (now Botley Bridges) was my first real introduction to the wider community.

Within a few years Botley was becoming a significant place for me as my eldest started school and we bought our first home.

This time coincided with proposals from Doric Properties to replace the entire West Way shopping centre with a superstore, resulting in the formation of West Way Community Concern (WWCC) to make the community’s voice heard during the planning process.

Ultimately the Doric proposal was defeated in favour of the development by Mace that is happening now.

In the four years that I served as WWCC co-chair, I was inspired by local residents’ insistence on the value of Botley as a distinct place: ‘Botley deserves better’ was a slogan that captured our resistance to becoming the next clone town.

On the back of my involvement with WWCC I was asked to stand for North Hinksey Parish Council (NHPC) in the 2015 elections.

By then I had heard about a local campaign for a skate park in the parish-owned Louie Memorial Playing Fields.

As a parent I was also becoming aware that while play areas in Botley for pre-school children are generally good, there was a long-standing gap in facilities for older kids.

So when I joined NHPC I volunteered for the Recreation & Amenities Committee and was elected its chair.

The first two years’ work was all about information gathering, priority setting, and coming up with a plan for action.

We were supported in our efforts by the local district councillors and the highly dedicated trustees for the Louie Memorial Pavilion.

While attempting to be thorough in our research, NHPC got a polite but firm nudge from the trustees that we needed to get on with things; usage of the building and playing fields was increasing, but the pavilion’s poor design and costly maintenance meant that it was no longer fit for our growing community.

So in 2017 plans for rejuvenating the Louie Memorial Playing Fields took off in earnest, with professional planning support secured through district council funding and a year-long series of consultative events with key user groups and the public.

Our efforts are finally yielding results.

In January NHPC installed new play equipment aimed at older children, and we are seeking planning approval for a new multi-use building to replace the pavilion.

Through this process I’ve learned about the many values that people attach to the parish playing fields as a place; there was clear support for a new building and other facilities such as a replacement skate park, complemented by a strong need to preserve open green space for relaxation and reflection. We’ve tried to strike the right balance by designing new facilities in a distinct area of the ‘upper’ (sports) field, while maintaining the ‘lower’ (informal) field and its adjacent woodland for quieter activities.

The meanings attached to places will vary between people, and inevitably some tensions arise as places are valued in different ways.

But what’s crucially important is that communities maintain and invest in these places so that they are not lost.

A few years ago the Louie Memorial Playing Fields were briefly earmarked as a potential site for housing development, but local leaders and were quick to object on the basis of its value as a community space.

The collective efforts of Botley residents have made it the great community that it is, and we must keep the momentum going to secure our valued places for the future.