Natural features aid play makeover

A large fallen tree forms the centrepiece of a play area makeover and helps to meet tight budget.

Playground: tree as centrepiece
Playground: tree as centrepiece

A popular but rundown park in Hackney, north-east London, has received a makeover on the cheap.

Aileen Shackell Landscape Design won the contract to update the play area in Millfields Park, a "tragic"-looking but well-used playground filled with 1970s equipment.

It could have cost up to £500,000 to redo from scratch, but Hackney Council had a budget of just £85,000 for the site.

The challenge for Shackell and play consultant Phil Doyle of Inspire 2 was to design a solution that had visual impact, fitted into the wider park's design and provided a creative play outlet, without it costing the earth.

"We were approached by Hackney Council because they are familiar with our work and liked the way we work with natural elements and materials," said Shackell. "They came to us knowing we would produce landscape-led equipment."

The final design used much of the existing equipment. In addition, carefully selected timber products, supplied and installed by Timberplay, have created an eye-catching playground with a large fallen tree as the centrepiece.

The team visited an Essex forest looking at trees that needed felling for wood management reasons, eventually settling on two mature oaks with no signs of rot.

Untreated oak is highly durable so could easily last 50 years - longer than any other play equipment in the park, said Shackell.

Rather than ripping up the wet pour and Tarmac, the feature was edged with timber and 240 tonnes of sand laid directly on the Tarmac at a depth of 400mm.

A "playable entrance" incorporates timber rounds into gaps in the fence so users can enter the area in the traditional way, through the gate or instead clamber over - setting an adventurous tone for the whole space.

Climbing over and around the fallen tree requires a much higher level of dexterity than on standard climbing frames, Shackell explained.

"The great advantage of using timber in its raw, unfinished state is the endless variety it presents," she said. "With a bit of imagination, and a good contractor to hand, a huge range of elements of all shapes and sizes can be created in situ."

She added: "This is so much more cost-effective than buying off-the-peg products that can result in identikit playgrounds."

Play spaces - Non-traditional approach

Aileen Shackell Associates (ASA) is known for its non-traditional approach to play, having produced the influential Design for Play: A Guide to Creating Successful Play Spaces, which advocates letting children challenge themselves, take risks and be inventive.

Aileen Shackell said people are "still a little nervous" about health and safety. ASA is combating this by advocating an approach that weighs up the risks and the benefits, rather than avoiding risk.

The standard approach to playground-making is "terribly dull", she added. "It's tragic the way we've got to a position where to create spaces which are fun for children we go to a catalogue and choose something designed in steel."

Instead, ASA's approach is about "making the most of the natural environment and encouraging children to be active in a way that's fun rather than relying on overrated catalogue equipment, although there is a place for it".

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 2016 - show preview

IoG Saltex 2016 - 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.