Make a play area for children

A play area can transform children’s perceptions of where they live. The space doesn’t have to be all about expensive equipment; it could also be a simple wild play area — or form a small part of another green space project your community might have in the pipeline.

You will need

  • A group equipped with plenty of imagination and derring-do, fond memories of playing outside and realistic expectations.
  • A large outdoor space with a bit of magic to it — or be prepared to make your own. Windswept recreation grounds will need more magic than most.
  • A supportive parish or local council who will help you clear any legal hurdles and lend expertise.
  • A clear idea of who is responsible for the play area’s upkeep.
  • A trip to your local Scrapstore. These are great places to find materials to add a bit of magic to your play area. They get all sorts of scrap materials that you won’t find on the high street and they’re community enterprises.
  • A bunch of young children who are keen to play outside and who will help you plan the play area.
  • Some decorations — which could mean signs, bunting, homemade sculptures or random bits of noise-making equipment.

A whole generation of children is at risk of missing out on the pleasures of outdoor play, so a play area can make a real difference to their perception of the world.

If you’ve already got an area earmarked for a community garden or allotment, you can incorporate a wild play area at the same time.



Talk to local residents

Play areas are for fun, laughter and shrieks of joy. They are not quiet places, so make sure you consult with the area’s immediate neighbours before you start.

Think about the location

Is it safe, away from traffic and easy to access? Is it overlooked by houses, will children require close supervision? Investigate the area — spend a Saturday afternoon seeing who uses it already. If it’s overgrown, clear a few paths. If it’s used as a dog toilet then plan a special area for that, well away from where children are likely to play.

Organise a litterpick

Get everyone who wants a new play space (or a rejuvenated existing play area) to come and help — it will give you an idea of how keen the parents really are and help give them a sense of ownership. Make it a family day and provide refreshments, even if it’s just a hot or cold drink at the end.

Keep expectations realistic

Plan something that complements the existing landscape and amenities and doesn’t require significant redevelopment.

Ask children what they want

Running a play space consultation isn’t about questionnaires or play catalogues, it’s about participatory design. Don’t inflate expectations or ask for unachievable wishlists. Instead invite children to a Play Day at the space you’ve chosen. Set dressing it a bit, with hammocks, nets, ropes to swing from, and a few surprises here and there, and it will make it that bit more magical.



Draw a map

A good activity at the event is to draw a map of the play area and name different parts of it. Use your imagination so kids can use theirs — get them to sticker the ideas they like most and suggest their own. Don’t forget to report back and keep everyone informed on progress.

Add some local history

Think about weaving in some local history, geology and ecology — bat boxes, bird tables, somewhere to spot creatures, or a trail if the area is big enough.

Offer a range of play experiences

Offer a range of play experiences, so that children of all ages, abilities and backgrounds can find something to inspire or challenge them, and encourage them to take risks and explore.

Host a Play Day every year

Host a Play Day every year with plenty of activities to remind people that it’s there.

Play isn't just for children!

Why not think about how you can make your existing idea or project more playful?