x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

On location: Al Barsha Park, Dubai

Not crowded, plenty of room for the kids to run themselves out of steam, well landscaped, facilities for athletes and those who want to keep fit or play sports - this park seems to have it all.

Whatever the leisure that is pursued, the Al Barsha Park in Dubai seems to be a magnet for all cultures. Walkers take the jogging track bedecked with flowers on either side.
Whatever the leisure that is pursued, the Al Barsha Park in Dubai seems to be a magnet for all cultures. Walkers take the jogging track bedecked with flowers on either side.

Children run freely across Al Barsha Pond Park, calling out excitedly to one another as parents supervise from nearby benches. They frolic in the strong midday sun, which reflects from the retention pond that lends the park its name. An energetic toddler throws an inflatable ball to his mum. Everywhere, there are smiles.

"I like this park and come here often with my children, but I would like to see bigger trees because it would create even more shaded areas," says Suhad al Athari, an Iraqi who lives in Al Quoz.

"This is one of the nicest parks in the area and the play area is very safe for children," says Lubna Haider, from Kuwait.

"I come here a few times a week to rollerblade and both my mother and grandmother come for a walk," says 15-year-old Victor Yaqubovskih, from Russia.

Whatever the leisure that is pursued, the park seems to be a magnet for all cultures. "I live in Barsha and you see a great diversity of people here," says Jill French, a teacher from the UK who likes to run in the park. "I think the facilities are really good for the local people and you see them get more active with outdoor areas like these."

The park is not too far from Mall of the Emirates and can be easily spotted behind Al Mawakeb school. "There might be a lot to do at the mall during the summer, but it is nice for the kids to get out and do normal kids' stuff when the weather is pleasant," says Denise Fennell, an Irish parent who lives in Al Barsha. "I found out about the park after driving past it, and my neighbours come here as well."

"This is my first time here and I like that it is not loud and busy. You do not feel intimidated because the running track is in the park, so you are not close to the traffic," says Claire Henderson, another teacher from the UK.

A class of kindergarteners from a nearby school are instructed to wait their turn before getting on the colourful slides, as teaching assistants guide them into a shaded play area. Meanwhile mothers are making the most of a balmy day by sitting in pairs as the children race each other.

"I played a little bit of football with my friend, and we also pretended to be tigers," says seven-year-old Delia Najjar, from Lebanon. "We also had fun playing some games with our brothers, who were being really naughty."

Although the park officially opened in March last year, a few parents say this is their first visit. Others are happy that entry is free.

"I did not know about the park, but my friend told me about it and I like that it is still not very crowded," says Tarja Rainio from Finland.

Her friend, Katriina Urrila, says she found out about the park when she brought her daughter to a birthday party there.

"It's beautiful, clean and there are lots of flowers. You can tell that they have thought carefully about the landscaping and arranged the plants well," she says. "Whenever the kids have energy to expend, I bring them here for an hour."

In the early evening, floodlights under the palm trees light up the park. Sport enthusiasts use the gym equipment to warm up before taking to the 2.5km jogging track. A group of teenage boys plays a friendly game of basketball nearby.

"The last time we came here, we played basketball and volleyball," says 30-year-old Preeti Manku, from India. "They also have gym equipment around the park, which is impressive."

Mark Poynter, who comes from New Zealand, says he is taking part in a 10km run in a few weeks and comes to train with some of his colleagues.

"My friend used to live in Barsha, so we started coming here. The track is rubber, which is also great," he says.

Near the children's area, eight Emirati women sit in a circle, chatting and enjoying light snacks. "I come here every other day to exercise, but every two weeks we have a gathering here," says Jamila al Mazrouei, 26. "We love this park. We come here so our children can play and we bring light snacks like cake, tea and coffee."