Argyle Primary School, Camden, London

In Camden, childhood obesity at reception and year 6 (10/11 yrs) is higher than the London and national average.

Following the trend in modern living, children have swapped skipping or football in the street or garden for technology in the palm of their hands.

The Active Spaces project is aiming to tackle the issue. It has been funded by Camden Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) and delivered in partnership with Camden Council Sports and Physical Activity Team, Camden CCG, ProActive Camden, Public Health, Children, Schools and Families and a project management company called Developing Projects.

The Active Spaces pilot taps into schools' ability to positively influence health and wellbeing, particularly at playtimes which account for up to 25 per cent of the school day.

The project has seen playgrounds in seven primary and secondary schools across the borough enhanced with active play spaces. The impact of the interventions is being monitored by University College London and the Institute of Sport Exercise and Health. Pupils are having their physical activity levels measured before and after the installation of the new play spaces. The programme is also aiming to extend use of the new resources to benefit the surrounding communities.


Argyle Primary School, which is close to Kings Cross Station, is among the seven schools participating in the Active Spaces project. The school has more than 400 pupils, and is extremely diverse, having children from 23 ethnic backgrounds. Its playground accommodates both formal PE lessons and informal play. Under the project the playground has been transformed with the addition of such features as new planting, woven willow dens and playful screens and bespoke play features, in a design created by award-winning design team, LUC.

Before the redesign Argyle Primary School playground was far from a featureless space; it contained mature trees and some planting which has been retained, as well as a timber hut – known as the Sci Hi Centre - which had been built in the 1980s and was well used but showing its age. Decking, furniture and artworks around the perimeter walls further generated unique character, play activity and interest.

LUC worked in close consultation with the pupils to design enhancements that would encourage greater physical activity, particularly group play.

Jennette Emery-Wallis, Director of Landscape Architecture at LUC says: "We asked the children how they wanted to feel in the space, and observed how they played and used the space. It was important to understand their fantasy play - for example a tree root could be meaningful to a game. We tried to enable group based play so that children would be encouraged to join in with their friends."

Features of the new space include:
•    A bespoke curving willow fence, which provides a playful transition as well as a protective barrier between ball games and other activities - it also helps to slow down over-enthusiastic runners
•    Existing trees and planting have been retained but supplemented with infill sensory planting
•    A musical path incorporating bounce pads, small trampolines and dance chimes, gives pupils the chance to create their own songs as music was found to be a popular activity at the school
•    A hide and seek trail of obstacles and nets designed to build core muscle strength were added to link existing spaces.
•    New tree trunks and balancing beams were added along an existing climbing wall, which was not well used because the children considered it too demanding – these make the trail accessible and fun
•    A monkey bar climbing frame, full of challenge, which was designed by LUC with the children and produced by manufacturer Grassroots Play
•    A play tower with ramp, slide, steps and look out platform
•    A tree trunk trail, comprising different sized trunks to promote balance and co-ordination
•    Line markings on the ground – to allow for timed running games
•    A mini synthetic sports pitch for formal sports. This was not part of the Active Spaces programme, but was paid for by the school and installed in the same project.

Key outcomes to date

School records are already showing a reduction in accident numbers as the enhanced environment enables safer play although it is more physical.

Observational studies have shown that the space and its equipment are being well used. An observational exercise carried out by LUC in January found that at the start of the break children headed straight for the play tower, the monkey bars and the trampolines.

Emery-Wallis says: "The acid test is whether the boy or girl who would have sat on the edge of the play area is joining in, and our observations are showing that they are. Teachers are saying the children seem more confident in themselves."

The school has a Family Learning Centre, which is used by local community groups and parents for coffee mornings, drop-in sessions and classes. It is now opening the play facility too.

Lessons to date

LUC worked closely with ROSPA at an early stage to ensure that the design of the bespoke play elements would comply fully with safety requirements.

It could be possible to have a significant impact on health and wellbeing at relatively modest cost. The budget for Argyle’s enhancements was less than £100,000. This included funding from the school for the synthetic turf pitch.

The bespoke play equipment proved to be cost-effective. "It cost less in construction, but more in design time. On balance though, it cost less," says Emery-Wallis.

The use of bespoke designs is important to the uniqueness of the place too, Emery-Wallis points out, adding: "Children get bored if the equipment is the same as they already have in their local park"

For schools, active spaces represent a step change in how they manage play. Play supervisors have to be more active in their supervision.

Next steps

Baseline data has been collected on the health and wellbeing of 450 children across the seven schools and follow up measurements are taking place after the construction and after one year of use. Researchers are using ActiGraph technology to measure young peoples’ physical activity levels over a seven-day period in conjunction with activity diaries. Further qualitative data will be collated on wellbeing, mental health, educational attainment and social cohesion. Findings from the research study will be completed by May 2016.


Project team  
Client Camden Council and partners: Proactive Camden, Camden Clinical Commissioning Group, Camden & Islington Public Health, Developing Projects, erect architecture and Wayward Plants
Design team
Landscape contractor Bowles & Wyer
Research team
University College London and the Institute of Sport Exercise and Health

This case study is from Horticulture Week's Landscape4Places campaign hub. Landscape4Places is a new campaign which seeks to highlight the contribution of quality landscaping to great placemaking. For more on the campaign, go to

Before commenting please read our rules for commenting on articles.

If you see a comment you find offensive, you can flag it as inappropriate. In the top right-hand corner of an individual comment, you will see 'flag as inappropriate'. Clicking this prompts us to review the comment. For further information see our rules for commenting on articles.

comments powered by Disqus

Read These Next

IoG Saltex - show preview

IoG Saltex - show preview

This year's Saltex will be looking to build on the success of last year by packing in a multitude of exhibitors and sessions over the two days, Sally Drury reports.



These tidy evergreen trees are not just for Christmas and come in a range of shapes and sizes, writes Miranda Kimberley.

Tree lifting, moving  and planting

Tree lifting, moving and planting

Successful relocations can see even big trees flourish while costing less than buying new stock, says Sally Drury.

Horticulture Jobs
More Horticulture Jobs

Are you a landscape supplier?

Horticulture Week Landscape Project Leads

If so, you should be receiving our new service for Horticulture Week subscribers delivering landscape project leads from live, approved, planning applications across the UK.

Landscape Contracts & Tenders

Industry Data

New: We have pooled the wealth of data from the past six months' worth of Landscape Project Leads to create an exclusive report for subscribers looking at the key development trends, clients and locations for 2016.