Weston-super-Mare Town Council issued a specification in July 2022 for the design and installation of an accessible SEN play area at the Castle Batch area in Weston-super-Mare, which would provide inclusive play opportunities for local children with Special Educational Needs. Research carried out by the disability charity SCOPE had discovered that almost half of families with SEN children in the area (49%) had felt their local playground was not accessible – local parents of SEN children had previously faced a trip of 25 minutes and 13 miles to reach a dedicated SEN park, and so a new inclusive play site was highly welcome in the area.
Weston Town Council had secured £400,000 of funding for this project from various parties including North Somerset Council’s Improving Play Spaces Fund, the ‘Big Worle’ Community Investment Fund, and Tesco, and Sutcliffe Play (South-West) Ltd were awarded the contract to design and install the site after a competitive tender process.
Listening to the Community
Sutcliffe Play SW immediately set about designing a bright, varied and inviting play space which would allow SEN children to reap the full benefits of a stimulating, inclusive play experience, working with the council to deliver a final play area which would correspond with the community’s needs and priorities. The Council had consulted with the community on what they would like to see from the new play area; both specific park users, and 229 parents, career and teachers – collectively representing 2140 local children with special educational needs – said their top priority was the provision of accessible equipment at the park, as well as safety and protection for SEN families from anti-social behaviour.
The latter group, meanwhile, also overwhelmingly responded that they wished to see a tactile stimulation zone, featuring sensory items that provide stimulation for SEN children, and a quiet retreat area for children with SEN such as autism to relax and escape loud noise. When surveyed, children themselves answered that the top 2 items they’d most like to add would be climbing frames and swings, whilst parents/carers/teachers most wanted to see swings and a roundabout installed.
Meeting the Brief
Sutcliffe Play SW listened carefully to these considerations and designed an extensive play space full of inclusive equipment, which also reflected the local character by taking inspiration from the historic motte-and-bailey castle which had previously stood on the Castle Batch site. This was a medieval fortification with a raised central keep, and so our installation features a central mounded area with a junior castle-themed Citadel multi-play unit at its heart, with this raised area also providing children in wheelchairs with the opportunity to experience being raised above their peers.
Easy to distinguish black and yellow wet pour surfacing has been used across the installation to allow partially sighted children to easily distinguish the areas around the equipment that may be hazardous due to the movement involved, while additional wet pour features include a 3D dragon and Hopscotch Knight!
The site includes 8 carefully selected sensory panels to provide stimulation (a key requirement of the brief driven by community feedback), including a sensory play panel with many tactile, visually stimulating elements, a Rainbow panel with rotating rainbow-coloured beads, a Showtime Mirror Play panel, and a ‘Hello’ Braille Play Panel for visually impaired children. Sutcliffe Play SW also fulfilled the other main wish of the community by installing a quieter sensory area, separate from the primary play area, where SEN children who struggle with loud noises could relax and unwind.
Other inclusive elements include an Inclusive Seat and Scooter Wheelchair Roundabout, which can accommodate a wheelchair and carers and allow them to enjoy the spinning motion together (one of the top two pieces of equipment requested by parents in the community feedback). As well as this, a new themed Group Seesaw allows balancing fun for 6 users, with an Inclusive Springie which is specially shaped to allow children to get on and off themselves by reversing, sitting down or climbing up the open front, with no lifting on necessary.
Existing elements have also been given a fresh makeover, with the Cableway fully refurbished and repainted a bold green colour, and the pendulum swing given a new 1.2m Inclusive Nest Seat which is designed especially to accommodate several young children and those with special needs, enabling children of all abilities to swing together for a highly enjoyable sociable experience. A specially designed Inclusive Wheelchair Swing has also been added, providing greater choice for wheelchair users and further corresponding with the community feedback which had requested swings as one of the most desired items.
As well as opportunities for swinging and spinning, there is now the capacity for bouncing play with a 2.65 x 2.65 in-ground trampoline, whilst children had named climbing as another of their favourite activities, and this was catered for with a bird’s nest climbing tree tower. Finally, parents are now able to visit the park and enjoy a sit down whilst ensuring their children are kept safe and secure from anti-social behaviour with two picnic tables (wheelchair accessible) in a central location providing good visibility, as well as the retention of the existing bench moved to a new location.
Molly Maher, Senior Development Officer at Weston-super-Mare Town Council, said ‘Roy, Stewart and the team at Sutcliffe Play made the creation of our new SEND Play Area a fully collaborative project. They were willing to work with us and community partners in finding adaptations for a variety of needs, from the equipment itself, right down to the colour of the safety surfacing. They went above and beyond the original brief, with their design team supporting the creation of a Communication Board for children and adults with varying communication needs. We worked with them from the initial design right up until the opening event, and they were always on hand to answer questions and queries. Thank you Sutcliffe Play!’