There was much to celebrate at the event, including the playground’s recent win at the BALI National Landscape Awards 2021. Since the revamp, visits have risen by 50%*, and over 80%** of children now spend 40 minutes or more in the space.
The landscaped playground, rich with planting and made from natural materials such as bark and willow, is in stark contrast to the metal and flat feel of the previous playground. Highlights include a 50-metre zip wire, water pumps and dams, a generous sandpit and an accessible bridge that leads to an exhilarating tunnel slide. Post-refurbishment, it is also double the size, and fully wheelchair-accessible.
The transformation has been funded by The London Marathon Charitable Trust (LMCT), and a mix of private and public donations. LMCT has also co-funded a three-year programme in The Regent’s and Greenwich Parks to encourage more children to play outdoors.
At the celebration event, children participated in a number of activities run by The Royal Parks’ Play Programme team. The programme is designed to be child-led and aims to break down some of the barriers associated with play. Since 2019, these free sessions have engaged almost 4,000 people and have been held in The Regent’s Park and in Greenwich Park, as well as in locations in the wider community, including The Regent’s Park Estate.
Andrew Scattergood, Chief Executive of The Royal Parks charity, said: “We are immensely proud of this inclusive, imaginative and nature-inspired playground.
“Playgrounds of this quality do not come cheap, and as a charity, Gloucester Gate Playground would simply not have been possible without the generosity of The London Marathon Charitable Trust and other donors. We are incredibly grateful to everyone involved in making this vision a reality.
“Since the playground opened to the public last autumn, we have received over a quarter of a million visits. Most of those visits will have included imaginative role play, forging connections, the mastering of a skill, and the release of endorphins from physical exercise. Play is not just a nice to have, we believe it’s essential to every facet of a child’s mental, social and physical wellbeing.”
Nick Biddle, The Regent’s Park Manager said: “During the build we encountered one of the wettest winters on record and this was shortly followed by a global pandemic. It therefore gives me great pleasure to see the playground so well used and to hear the sound of children laughing and enjoying themselves.”
Catherine Anderson, Executive Director of The London Marathon Charitable Trust, commented: “The London Marathon Charitable Trust’s mission is to Inspire Activity, and we know this fantastic new playground will do just that for thousands of children and their families! Play is a natural route into physical activity for many children, making inclusive and engaging play spaces like Gloucester Gate Playground vital in helping children develop an active lifestyle.”
Gloucester Gate Playground was initially built in the 1930s, and its appearance seems to coincide with the opening of a children’s ward in the nearby hospital at St Katherine’s Lodge. The lodge was obliterated by a bomb in the Second World War, and rubble was used to create the mounds that characterise the area. Drawing on the history of the site, mounds were planted to create a transition to the wider park.
This new playground was designed to facilitate social and imaginative play, as well as the physical element. Initial feedback from parents suggests that the new design is encouraging more collaborative and self-directed play.