12 February 2024

The joys of inclusive play

The joys of inclusive play image
Image: Altaf Shah / Shutterstock.com.

Nathalie Esfandi, co-founder of the Fair Play playground, discusses the important role local councils can play in creating inclusive play environments.

Outdoor play is an essential aspect of a child’s physical, social, cognitive, and emotional development as well as a connection with the environment. Through play, children can learn, explore, stay active and socialise. However, traditional playgrounds have often fallen short of promoting inclusivity and excluding children with disabilities and diverse needs. Barriers include a lack of inclusive and accessible playground equipment, inaccessible pathways, tight spaces, and challenging, uneven terrain.

There are one million disabled children in the UK. Research from the disability equality charity, Scope, found that of 1,000 parents and carers of disabled children ages 12 and below in England and Wales, almost half (49%) of the parents with disabled children say there are accessibility issues at their local playground and one in 10 families living with disability (13%) were unable to enjoy the playground because their children were not able to play together. In fact, one in six parents (15%) said that their disabled child felt upset and disappointed that they couldn’t enjoy the playground and one in 10 parents (10%) said that inaccessible equipment has even put their child’s safety at risk.

For a playground to be fully inclusive and accessible the needs of people with disabilities of all kinds must be considered at every stage of the design. The ‘Fair Play’ playground in Barnet, for example, directly addresses the challenges faced by the disability community and is a place where families and siblings can play together. It is the first of its kind in the country, an inclusive playground for all ages and abilities.

Fair Play Barnet has been developed by founders Deborah Gundle and Nathalie Esfandi with Angela Harding OBE, in collaboration with Barnet Council who contributed £100,000 towards the project. It has been designed with input from residents with disabilities, parents, carers and professional experts. The playground features solid safety surfacing across the whole playground area ensuring that it is wheelchair accessible, a fully accessible picnic area allowing for families to sit together, sensory activity panels and communication boards for non-verbal people to use, as well as a textured path for the visually impaired.

Fair Play has created a model which shows what is possible when inclusivity is put at the heart of designing a public space. They are calling for other local councils to replicate this model, break down barriers and create an inclusive and accessible space for all to play together. Local councils play an absolute vital role in creating inclusive play environments which foster social interaction, friendships and reduce social isolation.

Looking ahead, local authorities have a crucial role to play in bringing communities together through inclusive play environments, which will facilitate social inclusion and break down barriers – benefiting the overall wellbeing of children in our community. This can be achieved through: Creating accessible play spaces with regular maintenance, inclusive design which can be enjoyed by a diverse range of abilities, community engagement and communication throughout the process and financial support. Fair Play in Barnet has shown people how to do this and has created an environment allowing all ages and abilities to play together. Fair Play is the first of its kind, but it can’t be the only one of its kind!

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