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At the opening of the £350,000 maritime-themed playground in Greenwich Park we caught up with local community group organiser Vivien Davies, who was involved in the design process, to discuss the work that went into making sure the playground was for everyone to enjoy.

Vivien is a dog lover and full-time carer. She lives in Greenwich with her husband, her teenage son, her young daughter who has complex needs, and a very lively Labrador.

Helping design a new playground

We were approached by The Royal Parks to attend a number of indoor consultation sessions where we discussed the experiences and challenges faced by parents of children with disabilities. We met the landscape architects and talked about what makes a play space fully inclusive. We went on tours of the playground area to look at the equipment and share ideas on how to add to or develop them further.

We were pleased that every member of the team delivering this project seems really committed to making it inclusive. Some spoke of their own family’s experience of disability and that empathy is really valuable. We could see at each stage how suggestions we made had come through directly into the design.

Playing in Greenwich Park

The playground has a great location in a scenic corner of the park surrounded by trees and the view of the Observatory and One Point Hill. There’s a lot of space and it's very busy, always new children to meet and games to join in with. There’s a nice sense of community among the parents and the facilities, such as the loos and kiosk, were good. It had a lot of lovely play equipment and enough variety to keep an able-bodied child very entertained.

But generally the sight lines meant that in the ‘old’ playground it was hard to track a child who might run off, which is common with autism. Some of the features didn’t accommodate a child who needs a carer to help them with their mobility, and some were inaccessible to a child who can’t easily climb, crawl or manage steps.

Small adaptations go a long way. For example, a slide that is just a little wider enables a carer to support a more dependent young child to go down. Being careful with paths and heights of play features prevents a child in a wheelchair from being excluded from any part of the space so they don’t have to watch their friends run off without them. Elements such as sand and water are really important for young people with sensory difficulties or who have restricted mobility. Placing this as a central feature gives them the space they need.

A better experience for all children

What has made the difference is that the designers have listened to the views of parents of young people and incorporated these insights directly into the design of the new playground. In doing so they’ve made a playground which is a better experience for all children.

Being able to use a play space that is accessible is essential. It means our daughter can enjoy all the exciting opportunities there and play with other children rather than just watching them having fun from the sidelines. She has difficulties with her co-ordination but in this playground she can push her boundaries safely, practise movement skills, take risks and enjoy the sensory opportunities of sand and water, trees and plants. Above all she can join in creative and imaginative play with other children, and make new friends. All this would be difficult in a less inclusive space.

Nature watching as a family

Greenwich Park is such a big part of our lives. We explore it together as a family, discovering its history, nature watching and going for walks. It’s a great escape from our pressurised, urban lives. At weekends and holidays we take my daughter there every day, not just to play but to experience the change of season. She loves the sensory delights of fresh grass, gathering conkers, crunching piles of autumn leaves, perching on ancient tree trunks and laying in the long summer grass. We can practise walking on safe, winding paths and between the many varieties of trees. We can sit and make daisy chains in the spring and spot the fairy mushroom circles in the autumn. Being able to meet up and play with other local children in the playground is the highlight.

The playground was built thanks to generous support from The London Marathon Charitable Trust. The Trust is also co-funding a three-year play programme with The Royal Parks to help children spend more time outdoors and actively play in nature, in partnership with local charity, London Play.

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