Landscape Review - What's new in play

Play equipment trends have evolved to reflect interest in natural play and technology developments, says Jack Shamash.

Playdale's IPlay range - image: Playdale
Playdale's IPlay range - image: Playdale

Play equipment has changed dramatically as manufacturers try to meet customers' needs and Government demands. Although manufacturers will stock traditional items, they are increasingly developing equipment that reflects new patterns of children's play.

Reflecting interest in "natural play", some are supplying items made of timber rather than brightly-coloured steel. Playdale is marketing its Jungle Climbers - natural coloured logs that form climbing frames. Like most manufacturers, it spends more time designing playgrounds for clients rather than simply selling and installing equipment.

The interest in wooden equipment has shaken up the industry. Playworld, for example, which specialises in metal equipment, has joined forces in the UK with Lappset, which specialises in wooden play items, to sell more natural play equipment.

Meanwhile, more firms are trying to incorporate new technology into playgrounds. Playdale has introduced an Iplay product. This is a steel frame on which children can perform a series of challenging tasks. The frame has a computerised counter so local authorities can see how many people use it.

Lappset/Playworld says it is "bringing technology into the traditional play environment". Lappset has developed equipment that can interact with mobile phones. Playworld has introduced the Neos 360, which contains loudspeakers that can be linked to iPods and MP3 players.

Similarly, Kompan has introduced its Icon range, based on the successful Galaxy climbing structures. Screens and interactive equipment have been built in to provide a more exciting environment.

Another new development is exercise machines being produced by play manufacturers. Swedish firm HAGS has produced four machines - the Bico incorporates sit ups, chin ups and back lifts; the Serra exercises the legs and also features a punch bag; the Flexo is a bike and step machine; and the Tibaff is a hand-cycle and rowing machine.

Danish firm Kompan recently installed six machines to offer exercise to older people in Hyde Park, London. It says the positive publicity associated with the launch has led to a lot of interest. The fitness apparatus, aimed at people over 15, includes upper body trainers and exercise bikes.

Kompan is also producing a large number of items expressly designed to promote motor skills in toddlers. These include swings that toddlers can lie on and push themselves, without help from adults.

There has been a move towards accepting a reasonable level of risk in play. Some companies, such as HAGS, are marketing concrete rocks with climbing holds. Record RSS is promoting steel equipment that is fast-moving and exciting. Marketing manager Gary Wallis explains: "People do want a higher level of excitement. You can fall off our equipment, but you won't fall very far."

The British-made steel equipment includes a mini roller coaster called the Rigderider and various swinging devices. The firm also produces a wooden Eco range, which it suggests contributes to natural play. Wallis says: "Natural play isn't just about using wood. It's about having the right kind of materials for the setting and encouraging children to learn through play in a natural way."

There are also greater moves towards inclusion. SMP boasts that its products allow people with a wide range of ages and abilities - able-bodied and disabled - to play together. It has two new roundabouts and a rope swing that it says can be used by almost anyone.

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