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How Building Outdoor Play Equipment Can Bolster A Community

Sep 7, 2008
The importance of outdoor play on a child's development has been proved in many studies of social behaviour, health and child psychology. Having interaction with other children enables the development of social skills whilst tackling the growing epidemic of childhood obesity. The opportunity to experience creative play in a safe environment has been in decline in recent years due to natural play areas such as fields and woodland being taken over to provide space for housing developments and supermarkets. The safety of children when playing outdoors has also been under scrutiny as fears of abduction or bullying has gained momentum.

The affect this has had on the children of today has been to encourage a culture of a school age couch potato and contributes to the increase in childhood obesity. Rather than coming home from school and playing out with friends until it is time for tea, kids are coming home and playing on the X-box, chatting on Facebook or watching television. A far cry from making dens in the woods. The problem is often because safe facilities do not exist for the children to play in.

Many communities in England are facing a time of urban degradation where government or council funding does not provide amenities for community cohesion. There are places where community centres are derelict, playgrounds condemned and parks overgrown. Due to the lack of provisions, these run down towns begin to enter a state where boredom leads to crime and other anti social behaviour. This behaviour once started is very hard to reverse or stop, and often when communities to attempt to raise the standards, the efforts are thwarted by a handful of hooligans that tear the efforts to pieces.

What is needed is a scheme of urban regeneration or community development that caters for all ages. Often the provisions are made for a toddler playground that has no room for the inclusion of older children; subsequently these areas are vandalised with graffiti or through arson by bored teenagers that feel rejected and have nothing to do.

Some communities are taking matters in to their own hands by raising funds for themselves and applying for grants through schemes such as lottery funding. There is an example of a town in the north of England that took charge of the regeneration of the community facilities. The success of their endeavours came from keeping control of their plans and ideas despite the interventions of designers and landscape artists from out of town. The argument was out forward that they alone knew through being residents what the implications would be if someone from out of town took over. The area had had an overhaul of a park and play area before, but both had become vandalised beyond use because of lack of security, lack of community involvement and poor quality of materials.

This community chose to build two outdoor play areas, one that was an adventure jungle safely locked up at night; and another that was deigned by the local children, who helped to build it and was to remain accessible to the community day and night. The equipment they chose brought the play and the social interaction back in to the community for most ages. But when they had an arson attack on the open playground, they realised further measures were needed to include older children too.

The open adventure playground was added to with open areas where older children could skateboard and ride bikes next to the younger children. This close proximity encouraged interaction and helped develop a sense of pride within them all. These parks remain a success to this day and look to do so with the growing generations that are witnessing positive interactions as opposed to the tension of the former community.
About the Author
Dominic Donaldson is an expert in child development through recreation.
Find out more about outdoor play equipment and the benefits of its use in urban regeneration on child psychology and wellbeing at Timberline.
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