Archive | July, 2016

Success of Government investment in Play: Pathfinder Wisbech

14 Jul

Never let it be said that there were no benefits from first the lottery funding then the Play Builder and Pathfinder programme investment amounting in all to over £500 Million. Don’t let it even be said that the net benefit did not exceed the issues that arose through the process, speed and product of its realisation.

Last week I visited the only Pathfinder playground that was designed and produced by Sutcliffe Play with the local community and Cambridge District Council at Wisbech, Cambridgeshire. If ever there was an example of what we can do as part of the commercial sector when given the opportunity to be responsible for design and realisation in conjunction with the local community, this must be one of the best. I could name others such as Chatsworth

Chatsworth Paulsgrove Waterplay 2

and Paulsgrove in Portsmouth.

There are others of which I would be equally proud, where we interpreted the concepts of other designers, such as Cutsyke


and Snug

But this is really about the playground at Wisbech. An open access playground that is opened at dawn and closed at dusk by a local resident. Including two purpose built barges for toilet and changing facilities and indoor play space, Seen here through a self modified structure:


and American Swing,

American Swing

cable ways, self build modular structure, sand and water play and a fire pit

fire pit

all set in a playful landscape. My only criticism is the requirement for a fence, for which I can see no reason, being set in a green with little traffic at its edges.

So why do I think that it has been so successful. There wasn’t a child on the playground when we visited in the morning during term time, but all the signs of heavy use were apparent, worn out turf, charcoal around the fire pit (locked in the absence of Supervision); worn paths; a sign saying no play session today due to lack of staff (tragic, but clearly hanging on in there!).

fence notice

But what pleased me most were the signs of ownership and modification that were to be seen everywhere and the lack of vandalism (I don’t consider graffiti to be vandalism, any more than a broken bone is a serious Injury! I remember the obscene Graffiti that I painted on the ceiling of my adolescent attic).

graffiti wall

The addition of a boat that someone had picked up from somewhere. Hidden dens, bike tracks on the mounds outside the entrance to the playground.


While I was there I questioned a young man walking his dog on the green. He lived locally he said, the playground was fantastically heavily used. Occasionally there were scuffles, to his knowledge, never serious or out of hand. It was viewed as a real asset by the community, melting pot of race, nationality and religion in a very deprived area of Cambridgeshire.

If ever there was a justification for the investment programme, this must surely be it. There were many problems of making such a huge investment in so short a period, coercion to meet design standards that were not understood, resulting in extraordinary results such as Plastic rocks in the name of natural play, along with attempts to make all natural features comply with standards instead of using Risk Benefit Analysis to consider and justify minor irregularities.

Tragically with the change in policy of the current Government many of the people who so successfully drove this programme are no longer in place and there has been a tendency for playground design to return to the default Kit, Fence and Carpet (KFC) that preceded this investment, natural play being the biggest casualty. Happily all is not lost and many providers do have a better understanding than they did before the investment programme and there some playgrounds being built now that would come up to the ten principles underlying the golden rule of Genius Loci

My dreams?

First that this Government would recognise the contribution that play makes to the wellbeing, health and development of children in playgrounds such as Wisbech, in schools and in nature.

Second that the criteria for designing and purchasing playgrounds were based more closely on the 10 principles put forward in the Play England Design guide, rather than the reductionist approach of cost play points.

Third that those companies with a real knowledge of design, landscape, place making and children’s play be given more opportunities to create imaginative places for children to play, before this country is either covered in KFCs or the ubiquitous programmed fountains!


An alert and call for action – a new Standard threat to play provision

5 Jul

Rather than reinvent the wheel, I would recommend this blog to all who are involved in children’s play. However time is getting short. We would really welcome all those with an interest to respond urgently to Matthew Marshall at BSi in line with Bernard’s request.

Bernard Spiegal

This is an alert. An alert to all those – across Europe and wider – where European play equipment and surfacing standards are held, or will be held, to apply.   A new Standard is being proposed, one that will further undermine play provision.

Proposed change

The particular proposed change I focus on here (there are others) aims to introduce a requirement for onsite testing of playground surfaces, in particular, synthetic ones, for example, rubber.

Negative consequences

The proposed changes – designated (prEN 1176-1:2016 (E)) – if implemented, will have an entirely negative effect on play provision, piling on significant additional costs or, in an effort to avoid additional costs, providers may well feel compelled to close or further dumb down existing provision.

To demonstrate the scale of the potential increase in costs, one local authority has calculated that an additional annual amount of £400,000 would be required if the proposed…

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