Bushes     Pleasure Park Display Board      Trees, Pleasure Park 

2012 saw the launch of Simply Play, a free, play value assessment tool developed through a Knowedge Transfer Partnership between Sheffield Hallam University and Timberplay Ltd. Simply Play is now being taken up and used throughout the UK to evaluate the play potential of any given space and ensure any investment in play has a maximum return in terms of play value.

Recently, Beth Cooper, Creative Play Associate and Project Lead on Simply Play, visited Pleasure Park in Kettering to advise Kettering Borough Council on how to develop a more holistic approach to play. This has now been incorporated into their successful funding bid to improve Pleasure Park.

Beth Cooper explains:-

“In 2012 I visited Kettering in Northamptonshire to undertake a Simply Play assessment of Pleasure Park. We had a solid foundation from the start as Kettering Council have a good grasp of play and a committed and enthusiastic team who are keen and willing to develop play and play opportunities in the local area. This is a very commendable spirit, particularly in the face of the removal of the large scale capital grants”

The park itself was a fairly typical Victorian Park with a large play area clearly defined by a fence. The play area had some pretty standard equipment with the addition of other features like a BMX track, which served as much as a moonscape, a crawling track, a scooter track and later on in the day, as the older children tumbled out of school, a bike track.

The assessment was done on both the designated play area and the park as a whole. In spite of a ‘satisfactory’ play area, Simply Play highlighted that the wider park scored more highly for play value with its additional playability provided through other features such as trees to climb and a flexibility of usage afforded by the space.

Where Simply Play helped the team at Kettering develop their ideas for the future was by supporting them in conceptualising what they were trying to do both within the park and more widely in Kettering, to develop major ‘play spaces’ and not just ‘play areas’. This thinking not only helped them to win the funding applied for, but also was built into the current Green Flag application.”

Dave Lane, of Kettering Borough Council sums up Simply Play’s contribution.

“In terms of supporting the future development of Play in Kettering, Simply Play has come along at the right time and fits with the team looking more holistically at other sites and focussing on the wider play value and play potential of these sites. In addition it fits with moving beyond traditional ‘designated play areas’ to making whole spaces playable.”

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Elemental Play – Fire

Play Value - FireFire is one of the four cornerstones of elemental play, a vitally important aspect of the human play experience. There is no doubt that it must be treated with caution and respect but by understanding and experiencing fire, and recognising its play value, we benefit in so many ways.

Despite being such a powerful force and an effective experience, fire is one of the least accessible of the four elements for play and underrepresented in the average play space. Luckily, not all play spaces are average and there is a growing resurgence of understanding about the need for providing for such experiences.

Ian Lowe the resident Artist Blacksmith at the Forge at Stepney City Farm has been actively engaging with children for over three years, working with young people of all abilities, including those with special needs. Using traditional craftworking skills to enable children to grow and develop as individuals is a core mandate of the Rural Arts Centre at Stepney.Mr Lowe states:

“For me, as working Blacksmith, fire is without doubt the most important tool I use and I’m constantly surprised by just how little the general public understand it.  Sadly, this especially stands true when it comes to young people and children as the prevailing attitude amongst most parents is to see only the dangers of fire instead of its incredible usefulness.  Without it I simply could not do the work I do, and I spend much of my time explaining to them how our current society would be a radically different place without it and how important a role it still plays in daily life”.

For more on Ian’s work and a longer version of his statement click here.

There are others who are part of the growing movement to reverse the fear of fire and engage with it as part of the fuller play experience. Among them, Yorkshire Play, who have created a fantastic DVD resource for those interested in fire and play. Click here for more information.