Some of the equipment in Matlock Dale Play Area in East Suffolk was almost 25 years old, and looking thoroughly tired, when the local council decided to provide a complete refurbishment. The existing grass mat surfacing had become ineffective due to being embedded in the soil, and the existing equipment was no longer economical to maintain – the site was mostly used for dog walking and no longer visited by local children or families. East Suffolk Council partnered with Carlton Colville Town Council who contributed significantly towards the cost of the project, and helped ensure local residents were included in the process, with the final design being selected after a public consultation.
The council wished to complete the installation of a new, fun-packed play space to encourage children to engage in play, and develop their physical and emotional wellbeing in the process. It was important that the new play area be populated with robust, durable equipment, as well as being inclusive with a good level of accessibility for all. It also needed to provide a place for the community to connect, acting as a good meeting place for local children and adults alike, as it was situated in close proximity to both a primary and a secondary school.
Levelling the Playing Field
After undertaking a thorough site survey, and having given due consideration to all requirements within the brief, we finalised a design proposal to create a destination site for those with children with a wide range of differing physical, mental, and sensory abilities and needs. The completed site would also contain an excellent mix of play equipment that would ensure a good level of play variety. In beginning the project, the first pressing challenge was ensuring inclusivity for the finished play space, as it was built on a sloping site which could have posed problems for some visitors. We worked hard to build up the area and ensure easy access from the nearby perimeter path, increasing accessibility for all families. Following this, we then set about creating a modern, attractive play space full of our dynamic, challenging equipment.
Meeting the Brief
The finished site features a recurring castle/medieval theme, built upon colourful safety surfacing. The mixture of equipment offers a huge array of different play opportunities for all ages and abilities, with over 50 different play activities available, including climbing, sliding, crawling, swinging, rotating, bouncing, imaginative and sensory play, and social and educational play.
The new high-priority equipment we introduced to the play space offers maximum play value and robust construction, with the main multiplay units coming from our themed Toddlerzone and Playzone ranges, and they are complemented by a variety of our most versatile standalone items:
The central attraction is a Drawbridge combination multiplay unit, which offers 11 play feature activities to a maximum of 18 users. Utilising rubber decks and aluminium posts, this unit offers flexibility, strength and durability, with a lower deck for younger users incorporating a ‘drawbridge’ climbing ramp, and two upper decks for older children with a steep angled ‘vine climb’ providing a more challenging ascent.
This centrepiece unit is paired with a themed Rook multiplay unit, able to accommodate up to 9 users and offering 7 play feature activities, again corresponding to the castle theme with crenulations, arches, and stonework details. The unit features a central deck accessed by a tubular steel ladder, leading to a stainless-steel slide for a fast route back to ground level. The space under the deck also includes more opportunities for inclusive play, with a secret arched entrance for crawling and a set of ‘stocks’ for imaginative play. Likewise a themed ‘Denzel’ Dragon springie, made from robust HPL to avoid fade, again furthers the medieval theme, and offers a very good physical play opportunity in the guise of a fun, friendly and colourful character for younger children, with the open fronted design ensuring the springie is inclusive to all.
A ‘Whirlybob’ Roundabout, with four curved HPL seats rotating around a single revolving pole, offers a great spinning experience for up to 4 younger children. Elsewhere, a combination of balancing ‘Wriggler’ pieces, set at different heights to offer a multitude of seating, trim trail or balancing play, bring colourful caterpillar shapes and designs to the aesthetic of the new play space, and are able to accommodate up to 6 users.
A Cobra Rope Swing, meanwhile, provides a challenging multi-user experience where up to 6 children of varied ages and abilities can all swing together, encouraging social cooperation and locomotor play, and a Springie Seesaw offers an exhilarating, fun play experience for 2 lucky users, with easy grip handles and secure footholds, including anti-slip ends.
Two carefully selected play panels, Flower Explorer and Spider Explorer, provide colourful stimulation and sensory play, while 4 new swings (a classic play staple!) have also introduced to the space, including two rubber pod seats which hug the child as they use their body weight to pull the seat through the air. A park seat with arm rest completes the new installation, providing provision for parents and grandparents to relax while children play, and again meeting the brief of the new play space in becoming a destination for families.
Simon Walker from East Suffolk Council said: “Everyone in the community is delighted with the new Matlock Dale playground, and it’s been fantastic to see local families coming together to enjoy it. Working with the team at Sutcliffe Play was a great experience and they expertly managed the entire process for us, fully corresponding with our needs in meeting the brief. We’re very impressed with Sutcliffe Play, and are very pleased to recommend them.”
In summary, we worked hard to hit the brief provided, and our final design and site installation provides a truly unique play space whilst ensuring the areas of the site used by dog walkers and for sporting events are left unaffected. The equipment and play area design encourages an integrated approach to allowing children of all ages and abilities to socialise and play together, and our rejuvenated play space will engage the community for years to come.