Playspace pilot plays pivotal role

Primary school playgrounds in Camden were redeveloped under the Active Spaces programme

LUC’s playspace designs were developed with the help of pupils - image: HW
LUC’s playspace designs were developed with the help of pupils - image: HW

Children in a London borough are taking part in a pilot programme aimed at demonstrating the impact that active playspaces in school playgrounds have on health and wellbeing.

Seven primary and secondary schools in the London Borough of Camden have had their playgrounds transformed under the Active Spaces programme, which is promoting greater levels of physical activity in a bid to improve childhood health.

It is estimated that just 24 per cent of British girls and 32 per cent of boys achieve the recommended minimum of one hour a day of physical activity, as childhood obesity levels are higher than the English average in most London boroughs.

Camden's playground enhancements, which were carried out over the 2014 summer holiday, have included new planting, woven willow dens and playful screens and bespoke play features, including high level platforms and climbing structures, musical trampolines and timber play trails.

The playspaces have been designed by LUC and erect architecture along with Wayward Plants, who worked closely with the school pupils to develop the designs.

The impact of Active Spaces on levels of activity and fitness will be measured by University College London. Baseline data has been collected in 450 children 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.

Evidence is already emerging that the play spaces are having successes.

Jennette Emery-Wallis, director of landscape architecture at LUC said of one school, Argyle Primary, said: "Observational studies are already showing both girls and boys outside and using the equipment, and playground accident levels have dropped because the playground design now separates different types of activity". The programme was created by Proactive Camden, the borough's strategic partnership for sport and physical activity.

Camden Clinical Commissioning Group shared and supported the vision and allocated £785,000 to the project, and an additional £310,000 was provided by Camden Council through the Public Health Department.

Each selected site was awarded a share of the funding and three schools contributed additional funding to enhance the scope and quality of their Active Spaces.

The initiative's benefits are set to extend beyond the initial programme.

Participating schools are opening up their playgrounds so that the local community has access to physical activity. The programme could also result in follow-on projects and the findings from the research study will be completed by May 2016.

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