THE Tyne Valley has always been rightly proud of its fine array of parks and open spaces – but in recent weeks, they’ve come to play an even more important role in all our lives.

With almost every business closed and tight restrictions on where we go and what we do due to the coronavirus crisis, parks have become a vital escape for people to do exercise – particularly those who aren’t lucky enough to live somewhere with a garden.

However, pictures in the media of packed out parks – particularly in London – have led to some calls for parks to be closed for the duration of the pandemic to prevent the spread of the virus.

Indeed, health secretary Matt Hancock said the government could be forced to act if people failed to adhere to social distancing rules, in the wake of people sunbathing in parks during the lockdown.

He told Sky News’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday: “The vast majority of people are following the public health advice and staying at home.

“But there are a small minority of people who are still not doing that – it’s quite unbelievable frankly.”

But what’s the situation been like a little closer to home?

In Northumberland, people travelling to areas such as the coastline or country parks over the first weekend of the lockdown led to the closure of car parks in the nearby area to prevent people from doing so again.

Prudhoe’s Riverside Park has seen similar issues during the lockdown, but county councillor Gordon Stewart, who represents Prudhoe South, doesn’t believe parks should be closed to people from the local area but people should be discouraged from travelling away from their homes.

Coun. Stewart said: “It’s a beautiful area, and people come from miles around to use it, but because of the government guidance, which is absolutely right, we should restrict some people going to these areas.

“We’re trying to discourage people coming from further afield. Throughout the whole area nobody is far from a beautiful place to exercise.

“There’s no need for people to travel into Prudhoe to use the facilities here. We do recognise that some people are less mobile and need to drive down to parks to exercise, but we don’t want everybody doing that.”

In the capital, Brockwell Park has already been forced to close after 3,000, many sunbathing or in large groups, spent the day in the park.

But Coun. Cath Homer, who represents Hexham East and is the council’s portfolio holder for culture, arts, leisure and tourism, said people in Northumberland had been adhering to the lockdown well since the first weekend.

Coun. Homer said: “We had a blip in Northumberland at the beginning, where people headed to the coasts and tourist attractions like Kielder and Bellingham, but that’s calmed down.

“Personally I’m happy for parks to stay open if people are sensible and understand the restrictions.

“There’s been some horrific pictures from London, but I don’t think it’s been bad here. Let people enjoy the parks, but it has to be the ones in their local area.

“Some parks would be harder to close than others. How could you police the Sele, with so many entrances?”

The message, then, is clear. Provided we stick to social distancing rules – put in place to save lives – we will be able to continue to access our parks to our hearts content.

If we do not, they will be closed, and we will be forced to do without.