Jamie Bruce Jones discusses how to create robust and long-lasting solutions which challenge and inspire.

The greatest benefit of outdoor play is independence. Outdoor play allows children to learn through experience. This is why an element of risk and challenge is important. Rather than always being in a governed environment, they have an opportunity to explore and experiment themselves.

■ Double pergola at North West Community Campus, Dumfries.

To incorporate challenge into their designs which exceed industry standards such as European Safety Standard EN1176 and EN1177, our designers, engineers and installation teams have to think bigger. For example, agility equipment should be longer, rather than shorter, to give the children a challenge to balance over a greater distance. Swings can be higher, but that means we have to make everything bigger and stronger to secure the long-term benefit. We try to ensure there’s more of a challenge to help the children’s spatial awareness and develop their coordination and gross motor skills.

The ethos is to create outdoor play equipment that intrigues rather than wearies. It shouldn’t be a product that the whole school can master on the first day because, to put it bluntly, it will become boring. Introducing challenge also teaches the kids you can’t achieve everything immediately. You’ve got to work at it.

By creating specialist kit for SEN environments, such as wider swing seats or raised sandpits that can accommodate wheelchairs, we can enhance conventional apparatus to assist children of all abilities. We can adjust and refine our equipment to suit the group the school is catering for, whether it’s juniors or seniors.

■ Wheelchair-accessible swing.

When it comes to designing for a SEN setting, the smallest detail can make a huge difference. A good example is frame sizes. Some children don’t like things passing their peripheral vision. So, if they’re on a swing, the legs of the equipment will pass them repeatedly. To minimise this anxiety, we make the frame wider, meaning that if you have two swings hanging from a pole that’s normally three metres long, we’ll make it four metres long and position the swings more in the middle to ensure the users are further away from the legs, which gives them more space and clearance.

As well as incorporating challenge into our designs and adapting them to SEN environments, we must also consider the relentless rough-and-tumble the equipment will inevitably receive. From experience, I know our equipment will be tested to the limit, especially in a school setting, so we design our kit using bigger diameters to ensure they can withstand the forces going through them. We have to build play equipment that will accommodate misuse. The first priority is to build kit the kids will take time to master. And when they have, and they want to do something else with it, that’s where the robustness of the materials and the design come into their own.

Jamie Bruce Jones
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Jamie Bruce Jones is MD of Caledonia Play.

Website: caledoniaplay.com

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