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Play value

People should be safe and active at all ages… and this starts in childhood with safe and exciting playgrounds.

Children are among the most vulnerable to accidental injury and “almost 1 in 5 children are overweight or obese when they start primary school, rising to 1 in 3 when they start secondary school” according to the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health.

Fortunately, relatively few injuries happen to children when they’re playing on well designed and maintained playgrounds, where they can have lots of fun working off all that energy!

Why are playgrounds important?

Playgrounds are vital in providing spaces where children can express and challenge themselves, be active, experience risk and develop life skills to manage it – all the while being as safe as necessary, not as safe as possible.

That’s why boosting the appeal of playgrounds and play spaces, so children and their carers want to visit, is so important. RoSPA advocates that playgrounds offer a more open-ended and stimulating experience, with attention paid to the quality and variety of play experiences on offer. Another term for this is “play value”.

Play value and play safety go hand in hand.

RoSPA Play Safety inspections offer advice and insights not only on safety, but also on how to enhance the play value your playground or play space offers. For inspiration, we have prepared a showcase of some of the best playgrounds inspected by RoSPA Play Safety and recognised through the RoSPA Play Value Awards.

Play Value Awards

RoSPA held its first Play Value Awards at its Play Safety Conference 2019.

The awards recognised excellence in the provision of children’s playgrounds and play spaces, with the quality and variety of play opportunities being assessed.

The six finalists, which went before conference delegates for a public vote, were:

Sacrewell Farm

The immersive playable landscape at Sacrewell integrates natural structures, planting, visual cues and land forms into the existing rich environment to create an exciting play experience for children of all ages.

The area was regenerated by opening up access points and pathways and replacing “no-go” zones with gentler barriers such as planting. Subtle and open-ended play invitations are scattered around, drawing children in, leading them through the space and allowing them to connect to the landscape.

The watercourse is enhanced with informal crossings, large boulders and stone walling to allow easy access and an invitation to engage with the water and its inhabitants. A nature trail with balance beams, nets, a nest structure and traversing ropes offers physical and adventurous play, and the use of mounds and planting creates a labyrinthine setting for imaginative games. Seating elements throughout improve the site’s dwell time and potential use as a gathering or performance space.

“It's hugely important for children to have a safe place to enjoy nature. There are so many different parts of this area for children to enjoy - they could never get bored.”

Laura Bingham
Explorer and adventurer

Heaton Park

Heaton Park is a large municipal park; at a little more than 640 acres, it is the biggest park in Manchester. The whole of Heaton Park is Grade II listed and it contains nine Grade I, Grade II* and Grade II listed buildings and structures within it. There are around 1.2million visits to Heaton Park annually and it hosts a programme of major events throughout the year. The park includes two play areas.

Comments from users of the playground at Heaton Park:

"The new play area is fantastic and our children love it!"

"My two-year-old loved it - especially the floor trampolines and the swings that I could go on with him. Will definitely be back again soon!"

"It’s a fantastic asset to the park! My four children love it. Love the new swing where baby and sibling/parent can swing together."

William’s Den

William’s Den is a pay-to-play attraction which promotes adventure play and freedom to have meaningful connections with nature whatever the weather. Touchwood Play designed and built the indoor play experience.

What RoSPA Play Safety inspectors had to say:

William’s den is a truly unique play environment for all ages and abilities. This indoor purpose-built play barn is designed and then crafted using natural materials with the aim of replicating the type of experiences that you may well find in a historic woodland and on a Cornish beach.

Key features in the den are a reconstructed six-metre-tall ancient oak tree, a six-metre-tall sand play tree house, a 25m granite stream with a rain maker tumbling from the roof tops into a pool. An overhead network of rope walks and tunnels ensures hours of games and challenges for those who are so inclined, whilst others immerse themselves in the multiple possibilities of sand and water play. Taken together they created an inclusive space, which arises from an understanding of the relationships between child development, natural curiosity and imagination-led play.

Telford Town Park

Telford Town Park is 150 hectares of urban park attracting in the region of 750,000 visitors per year, and managed by Telford and Wrekin Council. Situated in the centre of Telford with a large conurbation and Southwater surrounding it, the park includes a 90 -hectare Local Nature Reserve. During the 1970s, Telford Development Corporation developed the park with the remit to provide a “Green Lung” for the people of the new town.

What RoSPA Play Safety inspectors had to say:

The play areas provide a variety of equipment across a broad range including toddler areas with spring animals, swings, slides, a pirate ship and train, to the more adventurous equipment of a giant spider's web, rocket slide, tyre swing, trim trail and water play. All complimented by a teenage activity area, all ability play area, a bandstand, purpose built visitor centre, aerial ropes course, adventure golf and disc golf and the Chelsea and Maxell Gardens.

HRH Princess of Wales Diana Memorial Playground

Opened in June 2000, more than 1,000,000 people visit this free-to-access playground each year, developing a fondness and appreciation of the experiential learning that takes place.

What RoSPA Play Safety inspectors had to say:

Inspired by the stories of Peter Pan, the playground supports the play process and promotes a balanced approach to risk in play. A sensory trail, tepees, a beach around the pirate ship and various tactile structures and sculptures all feed into the inclusive nature of the park; set against a lush backdrop of trees and with plenty of seating so the grown-ups can relax too.

A huge wooden pirate ship is the amazing centrepiece of the Diana, Princess of Wales' Memorial Playground. The design has fostered an approach where less able and able-bodied children can play together and seeks to provide an opportunity to explore the different play types through outdoor natural play.

The Children’s Garden, Kew

The Children’s Garden was opened in May 2019 forming the first phase of wider plans to upgrade the family facilities at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

What RoSPA Play Safety inspectors had to say:

The team at Royal Botanic Gardens have met their aim to inspire children to love plants by creating a play-garden rather than a playground. The Children’s Garden is 2.5 acres filled with hundreds of trees and thousands of plants to immerse children in nature.

The planting and play themes are based on the elements that plants need to grow – earth, air, sun and water – and include more than 60 of Kew’s existing mature trees. A 200-year-old English oak tree sits at the heart of the garden with a four-metre high platform allowing children up into the canopy. Play elements are made from natural materials including timber, rocks and sand to create a sensory experience surrounded by plants.

Time for an inspection?
Time for an inspection?

As well as making sure playgrounds are safe, RoSPA Play Safety can also offer advice about maximising play value

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