“If Adventure Playgrounds are all different, why do they mostly look the same?”

An excellent question, to be answered in two very different ways which, in true playwork fashion, are not mutually exclusive.

First is a guest post from Grant Lambie of Free Play.  Many of you will know him – a few lucky visiting Americans have been given a ride on his milk float!  He also spoke at the IPA Conference in Cardiff on the rise of what he termed “mis-adventure playgrounds” – i.e. places that don’t deserve the name.

Not a Standard Adventure Playground!

As we are threatened with the loss of more Adventure Playgrounds, this July Kingston’s Dickerage and Battersea Park Adventure Playgrounds. The justification for the closing them seem to share something in common. Health and Safety, Wandsworth’s council said “the playground does not come up to the European standards” and Dickerage said the adventure went out of the place due to health and safety concerns.

In fact the European Standard is not mandatory in general. In addition, perhaps because of concerns that there would be ‘mission creep’ by the Standards into staffed adventure playgrounds, it has always been the position that EN Standards are not intended to apply to adventure playgrounds. The EN Standard itself confirms this:

Extract from EN 1176-1:2008, clause 1 Scope,

This part of EN 1176 is applicable to playground equipment intended for individual and collective use by children, but excluding adventure playgrounds. It is also applicable to equipment and units installed as children’s playground equipment although they are not manufactured as such, but excludes those items defined as toys in EN 71 and the Toys Safety Directive.

NOTE Adventure playgrounds are fenced, secured playgrounds, run and staffed in accordance with the widely accepted principles that encourage children’s development and often use self-built equipment.

So who is telling these playgrounds and the council that this is the case? And why do so few people know and work with this?

We may find out who it is at Battersea by knowing whom is going to put fixed play equipment on the grave of Battersea’s former Adventure Playground.

As with all play provision, risk assessment is mandatory. Significant progress has been made in this area: risk-benefit assessment is a form of risk assessment recommended in Managing Risk in Play Provision: implementation guide, and is endorsed by the HSE. One wonders why LB Wandsworth has not commissioned assistance with a risk-benefit assessment.

This is Battersea with its very fun, one off, very popular swing. Made by staff and young people.

Here is Wisbech Adventure Playground, probability all with-in the EN BS 1176, but does lack the Adventure. One senior play worker of an Adventure playground said “That almost verges on the criminal…….terrible.”

Just to say the one above is the million pound playground by Suticliffe and is very similar to Pauls Grove AP in Portsmouth which they built 4ish years ago, so have learnt nothing.

Please make sure your local Adventure Playground or School is being assessed to the right standards, and not be a standard that is there to make it easier of playground manufacturer to export their wares.

Grant Lambie (Free Play)

Advised by Bernard Spiegal (Play Link)


10 thoughts on ““If Adventure Playgrounds are all different, why do they mostly look the same?”

  1. Barbara Hendricks new book Designing for Play may be of interest – an exploration of why playgrounds all the look the same and how the practice of playground design might be rethought

    1. Oooh – it does look good! I like that she has one chapter entitled “Children’s Criteria” and another that’s “Designer’s Criteria”.

      Have you read it? What does “Playing into the Future” cover?

      Your research also looks fascinating, by the way.

  2. Hi .. it was a while before I happened upon an adventure playground .. but what great places they are, Playspaces , created by its users, for its users, supported by playworkers! ….I have recently been fortunate enough to be seconded to Fort Apache in Torquay, S.Devon as part of Play England’s Exploring nature play project and what a opportunity this is!!
    Play Torbay has 3 amazing adventure playgrounds ( 1 open access – so more of an adventurous playspace!) The other 2 equally adventurous, but all 3 different… The 3 teams work really hard using risk benefit approach to make sure that all the children and young people ( and adults) that play here have the opportunity to have the best time ever .. as an ageing playworker and mum of grown ups I sometimes find myself holding my breath as I remember those important principles of playwork … Long may their adventures continue … with experienced, qualified playworkers on site to support them where and if needed! .. See never too old to play or learn!

    1. I know, right?!

      I read about adventure playgrounds before visiting them, and I was definitely expecting something terribly ‘old school’ when I set off to explore them. Some of the ones I’ve seen have been a bit disappointing, but the ones that remain risky are genuinely fantastic. True hotbeds of fantastic play and dazzling opportunities for the children – and for the adults, if they’re open to holding their breath and watching as you say!

  3. Paulsgrove AP, as describe above, had changed little from the original fixed equipment model installed in 2003/4.I would welcome anyone’s thoughts on the original model, but AP purists will be please to know that I am currently engaged in a radical culture shift on the site with dramatic changes to the natural environment,( so well manicured before), and self-build adventure play spreading across the site like a rash.

    1. I think that fixed equipment sites can definitely be ‘playworked’ and become more adventurous places. Penny Wilson and PATH really do amazing work in that regard – and once it’s begun, the children take it over so gorgeously.

    2. Hi John
      This is really good news that Paulsgrove AP playscape is starting to change, as we all know young people are changing all the time, why not their play settings.
      The original model of non-understanding the child needs in play and the play areas for profit go hand in hand, so you have a undesigned space which fits the standards, for spacing the equipment, but does not have flow, shade, or the freedom, so self make games can be played. ( I will stop here.)
      The power of Penny is great, but as seen in Notting Hill AP, when fitted play equipment is added the number of child goes down. It was not until the removal of the equipment 4 years later and adding space for self build and other adventure play pieces, that the number returned to as before.
      So it is not about PATH et la doing their part, it is about 4 years were the young people of the local area did not have a place to have adventures in.
      4 years to an 8 year old, is half their life.
      John if you would like a disc of photos of ideas for other APs, I will pop it in the post for you, or if you are in London I can give you a tour.

  4. Thanks Morgan – over here on Canada’s east coast I must say that I’m very envious and a tad jealous of the UK and European adventure playgrounds. I’m not aware of anything remotely similar in Canada. We’ll have to get off our duffs and make it happen. Another good post a few days back on adventure playgrounds by Real Mom Time about an AP in Huntingdon Beach, California. It’s illustrated with some fine photos – http://goo.gl/Wdnju

  5. In Wandsworth it is not just Battersea Park which is about to be destroyed to be replaced with unsuitable equipment. We have already lost, bulldozered, York Gardens Adventure and are about to lose Kimber Road, which is to be replaced by a skate park – other sites would be more suitable.
    Our home page (http://www.wandsworthagainstcuts.co.uk/) shows “They built it, they used it, they repaired it, the council destroyed it”. The “They” in the photos are the children, together with staff. It is this contribution made by children, helped and supervised by staff, which is being completely ignored in the plans for replacing the current structures with commercially produced equipment. For the children who live in high rise blocks, this is taking away their only opportunity to take responsibility for their own environment, to learn about risk taking, learn to use tools in the real world, not in a classroom. I could go on, and on, and on……………………..

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