This BIG Lottery Fund financed project saw us collaborate with more than 50 community groups and over 2,000 children between 2008 and 2010, to help them create spaces and structures that really work.

We wanted to help communities think beyond the off-the-shelf equipment and to create play spaces that:

  • offer deeper immersive play opportunities by including natural elements, such as planting, timber, water, sand and rocks
  • are designed by the people that will use them, including the children themselves
  • are more likely to get local funding because they are innovative and inclusive

We worked with disability advisors, artists, landscape designers, playground manufacturers and many others to come up with a collection of play structures for the Eden Project site, including The Nest, which could be used as exemplars for community groups to use in their own environment. 

Creative consultation techniques

The project was as much about the process of design as it was about the finished product. What makes the project stand out is that we used a wide range of creative consultation methods to help communities work out what they want.

  • Informal consultations
    Rather than asking people to fill in a form, we tried techniques such as holding discussions around an open fire while cooking food, taking photographs with them of the current space’s successes and failures, or simply filming play to see what kids use the space for and how we could build on this.
  • Story telling
    We also used documentary film making as a tool for allowing children to present ideas on their own terms. Giving them a physical character to adopt and which would appear on camera – a face drawn on their thumb or on a pebble – helped them feel comfortable about putting forward their views ‘by proxy’, as part of a story. 
  • Creative modelling
    We worked with artists and our own landscape designers to run sessions in which children could create miniature versions of the play space – made out of sand, sticks, leaves and other materials – and incorporate their own ideas. 
  • Outdoor play events
    In the Devonshire community of Kingsbridge we ran a play day in the recreation ground, setting up rope swings, nets, fire pits and dens on a wooded slope. After the simple equipment proved a real success with the 500 people who came along for a climb and clamber, the designers decided to include the unusual slope in the final design for the space, and even invested in their own den kit especially for facilitated play sessions.

Our impact

The project resulted in design concepts to transform four play areas in the South West: Newquay Pre School, Boscastle Nursey, Tothill Park in Plymoth and Ayr Field park in St Ives. We also contributed ideas and helped run consultation events in many other communities further afield, getting their creative juices flowing.

Read our case studies in more detail in these downloadable pdfs: