5 steps to getting a new play area for your community

Blog Post by Aileen Melia 24 April 2018

5 steps to success including which equipment to choose, where to look for funding and the importance of sketch designs.

It’s a sunny day, the kids are driving you mad, your yard is too small and the street’s too busy for the kids to play on.   So you all head down to your local play park.  The problem many of us encounter is that when you arrive, you’re greeted with a park that’s tired, old, probably vandalised and definitely uninspiring.  Your local council most probably agrees but their squeezed budgets wouldn’t stretch to a full re-design with new equipment.  That’s where you step in!  All you need is a little time and commitment and you could make a real difference in your community.  To help you, we’ve put together this 5 step guide to success. 

1.       Form a group of like minded people

You’ve probably got enough on your plate, right?  So the first thing you need to do is get together other keen and enthusiastic residents to share the load and form a community group.  There’s some great advice here on how to do this.  We would definitely advise that you get the local teens involved as early as you can.  They’ll not only have lots of great ideas for the space but will also look after it once it’s installed.  Ownership of something is the best way to get people to look after it.   Get your new group together and pull your ideas into a wish list.


2.       Decide on a theme

The equipment you choose needs to work with the surroundings.  If your play space is out on the fringe of the countryside a timber choice would be more appropriate.  If your park is in an urban setting then steel may look good and have more longevity.  A sense of place is key to a successful play space.   

Blackburn With Darwen -20130305-01490

3.       Choose the play equipment

Once news of your project gets out, you’ll be very popular with all the play equipment reps.  They’ll be more than happy to visit you and show you their products but, although this is very useful, remember that you’re the client and it’s your choice and final decision.  You don’t need to go with just one company either - pick your favourite pieces of kit from them all and put together your ‘dream team’ list.  It’s a good idea to visit other play areas to test out the equipment; a catalogue can make something look more exciting than it is.


4.       Get a sketch design drawn up

A sketch design is important as it brings together all of your thoughts and kit choice and illustrates to any potential funders what the scheme will be like when it’s completed.  Remember to get the most out of your play space.  It’s not all about the equipment; it’s the context that adds the play value and adventure.  Think about using elements like earth mounds, water, sand and boulders.  Imagine places to hide, places to look out from, places to be on your own and places to be in a group.  All of these will create interest and inspire the imagination.


For some inspiration, check out this 'Play that Rocks' guide that we put together for Lancashire County Council. They wanted to produce a study of the benefits of free and natural play to inspire other play areas in Lancashire. It's a great source of ideas and definitely worth a look.

5.       Get the funding together

Funding is essential to most schemes.  Council budgets are now so limited that any added value you can bring to the scheme means less compromise.  Think about local donations of materials from local companies (quarries for boulders or nurseries for plants perhaps).  Planting days can not only unite the community but also keep costs down and provide match funding.   Grants for play areas have recently been awarded from the Lancashire Environmental Fund, The Windfall fund and Heritage lottery funding, but there are plenty more to try.  Search the internet for other providers but bear in mind that each provider is specific to locality and proposed facilities.  We’ve listed a few below as a starting point.

It can be a long road to take but getting things right from the start is important.  Determination and teamwork can deliver a great long lasting asset for your whole community for years to come.  Good luck with your journey and please let us know how you got on!


We welcome relevant, respectful comments. 

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