Council Playground Closures Put Spotlight on Schools

council playgrounds

There’s a seismic shift going on in the world of playgrounds. It’s not too long ago that school playgrounds were little more than large expanses of empty tarmac and that the public park was the place to find all the exciting equipment. Today, that situation is very much the reverse. While many schools have made considerable improvements to their playgrounds, cash strapped councils are having to close theirs down.

According to a recent article in the Guardian, a funding crisis in the play sector means many public playgrounds are in such a dilapidated state that councils are no longer in a position to reopen them. After years of austerity and the capping of council tax, councils have been forced to focus their spending on statutory responsibilities. As a result, play provision has disappeared off the list of priorities. Not only are improvements becoming fewer; many authorities are struggling just to pay for the necessary maintenance of existing playground equipment, without which it is unwise and potentially unsafe to keep them open.

The Association of Play Industries has found that over 340 playgrounds have been closed across England over the last few years and those still in use have seen their budgets cut by £13 million, year on year. In many cases, it is groups of parents who are seeking to make improvements, often having to resort to crowdfunding to pay for any repairs.

This is not, however, the only problem for parents and children looking for play areas. While the government has begun the process of mass home building across the country to deal with the housing shortage, families moving into these areas are finding few, if any, local playgrounds being developed at the same time. Despite a playground being an amenity that could improve the value for all the homes in these areas, developers stand to make more money using those spaces to build more houses. Many of those which have been built remain largely unused because the budgets were so small they hold no attraction for the children.

For those living in social housing, it’s a lottery as to whether there’s a good local playground. Some housing associations are willing to invest properly in providing high-quality playgrounds while others will merely contribute towards their upkeep and assist local groups with fundraising activities.

What does this mean for schools?

Regardless of the numerous learning benefits that a school playground provides children with, the benefits of play for their physical health and mental wellbeing are considerable. It is recommended that children take part in an hour of physical activity every day. They can get much of this from taking part in playground games or from playing on equipment like climbing frames. Doing so helps keep them aerobically fit, strengthens their core muscles, improves physical skills like balance and coordination and improves general health and fitness. It also helps combat obesity and its associated illnesses that are increasingly common among children of all ages and which can have life-long consequences.

Physical activity has also been shown to have a beneficial effect on mental wellbeing, as does any form of social play that children participate in. Indeed, following the lockdown, there are many concerns about how the lack of socialising has affected children’s mental health and behaviour. When children first went back to school in September, schools reported more children struggling to play together and saw an increase in altercations. Ofsted, meanwhile, noted a concerning decrease in physical fitness.

As a result, child development experts are calling for parents and schools to give children and teenagers more time for active, outdoor play and socialising – something which contradicts Gavin Williamson's desire to extend school hours and provide summer schools to help children catch up with classwork.

However, with public playgrounds being closed down and many of those remaining needing maintenance before they can open once again, the spotlight falls very much on schools. Compared to a generation ago, today, the best equipped and safest playgrounds that children have access to are often found in the schoolyard, not at the local park or residential estate.

Conclusion

In the short term, when it comes to helping children deal with the aftermath of the pandemic, school playgrounds will have an important role to play in providing the physical and social activities long-isolated pupils so desperately need. In the long-term, however, if the number of public playgrounds continues to decline, the schoolyard may be, for many children, the only place left to enjoy the treasures of a well-equipped playground.

For more details about our playground equipment, visit our Products page.

 

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5 Questions to Ask Before Upgrading a School Playground

Though upgrading a school playground brings many advantages, it is often a major project and presents both opportunities and challenges. Before you can put designs on the table, there are some important questions to be asked. Here, we look at the key questions you need to consider.

1. Where will we find the funding?

Depending on the size of the playground and the equipment you want to install, a playground upgrade can come with a hefty price tag. While there may be funding available from within the school budget, many schools need to source additional funds from grants and raise money through fundraising activities. This may mean asking the PTA to run events, getting the children and staff involved in sponsored activities and seeing if any philanthropically minded members of the school or local community (including local businesses) are willing to make donations.

Careful design of the playground can help keep costs to a minimum and at ESP Play we point you in the right direction of potential grants and give ideas and advice on fundraising.

2. Where to create the upgrade?

Getting the most benefit from a school playground doesn’t always mean that the upgrade has to be in exactly the same space as your existing outdoor area. There’s always the potential to extend the area, join formerly separate areas together, shift the space over a little or even move it to the other side of the building. Why does the school have a south-facing car park and a north-facing playground when the opposite would be the obvious choice? Why is the one area of natural beauty on the school site nowhere near where the children play? Asking questions like these can help you think outside the box and realise the true potential of the space you have available.

Of course, there are many other things to consider, such as access, safety, planning permission, the suitability of the ground, the type of landscaping you want and so forth.

3. Who is going to use the playground?

While the obvious answer to this is the pupils, schools need to think very carefully about the children’s needs when planning an upgrade. One key factor will be inclusion. A playground needs not just to be accessible to all, but to provide opportunities for all. There’s no point putting a wheelchair access pathway to the playground if a wheelchair user is left unable to play with their friends or make use of any equipment. This principle applies to children with all needs.

At the same time, schools need to look at how children of different ages and interests play. The design you create should provide them with the activities they want to do during their free time. For some, this will be just to have somewhere quiet to chill out and chat to their mates, for others it will be exciting equipment to climb on or sports markings to have a game of football or netball. Younger children may prefer to take part in messy play or have some whiteboards to draw on, etc.

Getting this right means getting to know your pupils and asking them what they want.

4. What does the school want the playground for?

Today’s school playgrounds are multi-functional and help the school in many different ways. From a multi-functional point of view, they are used for breaktime play, outdoor classrooms, PE, outdoor eating areas, interschool sports matches, school fetes and various other purposes. Questioning what you want the playground to be used for can help you create a design that brings this extra functionality. Consider how creating a picnic area, for example, could ease the pressure of lunchtimes in those schools whose canteens lack seating capacity. Or how an outdoor classroom could help enrich the curriculum while freeing up space within the school for other purposes. For secondary schools in particular, equipping the playground with a MUGA could make it far easier for PE departments who are often deprived of their halls during the exam season.

The type of equipment installed in a playground can also help schools in other ways. Apparatus that inspires children to be physically active, such as climbing frames and Trim Trails, can improve physical health and mental wellbeing, helping to reduce obesity and enabling children to cope better with depression or anxiety. Physical activity can also boost mental alertness in lessons and reduce disruptive behaviour, while social play helps improve relationships within the school and nature areas help improve mood and provide a safe, calm environment for children who need quieter spaces.

5. Who is going to install the playground?

This is a vital question, as your choice will affect the design and quality of the finished project. One thing you should consider is whether your playground installation contractor has experience working with schools. There are many differences between school and public playgrounds and a school specialist, like ESP, understands the specific needs that schools have. At the same time, you want a company that provides the full package, from start to finish; a team that will design the playground with you, supply all the equipment and materials you need, build and install the playground and then provide the regular maintenance needed to ensure its ongoing safety and good working order.  Working this way helps keeps cost down and makes it easier to manage the project, enabling it to get completed quicker and with a more satisfactory outcome.

Conclusion

As you can see, there are many things to consider even before you start to design your playground upgrade. The questions here, obviously raise other questions themselves and answering these ensures that, at the end of the project, the playground you end up with ticks all the boxes.

For more information, visit our Inspiration page or if you want an informal chat, call us on 01282 43 44 45.

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Playground Design and Fundraising Ideas for Schools During Coronavirus

If your school has been considering a new playground, the Coronavirus lockdown might provide the time to plan your new outdoor space and even do a spot of online fundraising. With the majority of pupils and their parents at home looking for things to occupy their time, there’s a lot of opportunity for pupil and parent involvement in your project. Here are some ideas you might want to consider.

literacy and phonics

Designing your new school playground

There’s a lot to think about when designing a new playground for schools and nurseries. Some things, of course, need a specialist’s view, like whether groundwork needs to be carried out for drainage before new surfacing is laid. On the other hand, there are plenty of things that pupils and parents can get involved in, like choosing their favourite pieces of play apparatus and thinking of different kinds of zones that they might want to play in.

As most children are absent during the Coronavirus pandemic, you can set homework tasks that encourage pupil involvement in your playground redevelopment planning. One interesting project would be to get them to design their ideal playground. You could start by creating a downloadable outline of your playground, so they have an idea of the shape and size of the space and you could then ask them to visit our products page so they can find the outdoor play equipment that most appeals to them.

To make things more realistic and challenging, ask them to choose the types of zone they want to include, such as a nature area, climbing zone, a place for sport and PE, a dining and seating area, space for roleplay and creative fun, a sensory zone, etc. and then ask them to select equipment for each zone.

Once this has been done, the pupils can then create their design in colour, label the zones and write a list of the equipment they want to go in it. They can then email the project to their teacher. If you want to give even more challenge, ask the pupils to create a 3D design and send in a photo. To raise the profile of the project, you can even make it into a competition and give prizes for the best designs.

The benefit of this is that it gives school leaders a clear idea of how pupils of different ages, abilities and interests want to use the outdoor space. This helps you create an inclusive playground with a range of zones that appeal to all children. It also ensures that you spend your budget effectively, purchasing apparatus that you know will engage pupils and be well used.

It is not just pupils who you can get on board, either. With many parents forced to stay at home, they’ll have more time to answer questionnaires about what they want to see in the school playground. You could also set up an online playground working group, with parents and teachers conducting discussions over video chat.

New playground fundraising

Just because schools are closed for most pupils doesn’t mean fundraising activities for your new playground have to cease. Since the Corona outbreak began, millions of people are keeping in touch with friends and loved ones using video chat apps like Skype and Zoom. Social media is full of examples of how these are being creatively used. It is possible, for example, for your school to hold an online talent competition or even a school band performance where the various musicians each play from home. For fundraising purposes, you can ask parents to contribute via platforms like ParentPay or even set up a GoFundMe account.

Aside from using video and live streaming, there are other ways to raise money during the lockdown. You could, for example, ask the parent-teacher association to host a ‘buy now, receive later’ bun sale. Alternatively, you could hold a bric-a-brac auction where parents pledge to pay for items once things return to normal.

Finally, with your pupils having quite a bit more free time, there is a lot of opportunity to undertake sponsored activities, with people paying their sponsorship online. Of course, with pupils’ movement being restricted, they’ll need to come up with some inventive ideas about what they can do – but that just adds to the fun and challenge of it.

Conclusion

Though Coronavirus is causing major disruption, schools looking to redevelop their playgrounds have the potential to bring something positive from the experience. Undertaking design and fundraising during the lockdown can unite the school community to achieve something that will, once the pandemic is over, benefit everyone. Hopefully, the ideas given here will be useful.

If you are considering a new playground, visit our Free Playground Design Service page. For design inspiration, make sure you check out the video while you’re there.

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How to Raise Funds for School Playground Equipment

Installing fun and exciting school playground equipment can bring lots of benefits. It makes children more active, improves social interaction, aids inclusion and has been shown to have a positive effect on academic progress and behaviour. It’s no surprise, then, that awesome playgrounds seem to be springing up everywhere.

Of course, playground equipment does come at a cost. Any equipment used in schools has to meet stringent safety standards and it also needs to be professionally installed. And with education budgets being squeezed, you could be wondering how so many schools have managed to afford to install such fantastic equipment over the last few years.

The answer is that rather than the funds coming completely out of school capitation, much of the money is being raised from other sources. In this post, we’ll look the different ways that you can help fund your school’s new playground project.

Create Your Playground Design

Before you can begin to raise money for your playground, you will need a clear plan of what you want to achieve. Only once you have a design in mind can you get a quotation for the cost and without this, you won’t be able to apply for external funding or have a target for internal fund raising.

Your first task, therefore, is to find out what you want your playground design to achieve. This will mean looking at your school development plan, talking to parents and asking your pupils what they want.

There are many things you will need to consider:

  • Do you want to use equipment purely for play or for curriculum purposes as well?
  • What are the primary playground needs of your pupils? To be more active? Less bored? Interact better?
  • How will your design cater for the needs of all pupils?
  • What does your school lack that the playground can provide? Nature zone? Outdoor classroom? PE facilities?
  • What are the limitations of the space you have available?

Ideally, when drawing up your ideas, you should talk to a professional playground equipment company that can help you with the practicalities of your project and come up with solutions you may not have considered. At ESP Play, for example, we offer a free design service.

Building a Successful Team

Raising money requires a range of skills and it’s not a task that can be undertaken by one person alone. Ideally, you need a team of people that includes teachers, PTA members or parents, pupils and governors.

Whilst it is important to have enthusiastic members in your team, you will need some expertise too. Someone will need to be the chair, you’ll need someone who can take care of the finances, someone who has experience of writing bids (we can help you with this) and several people with the experience of organising fund raising events.

Raising Money in School

At ESP Play, we’ve seen schools come up with some fabulous fund-raising ideas over the years. Some of the easiest ones to organise are non-uniform days, raffles, cake and bun stalls, and table-top/bric-a-brac sales.

For parents, we’ve seen everything from 80s discos, quiz nights, live music nights and even summer balls complete with auctions. Pupils, on the other hand, are always up for the annual Halloween, Christmas, Valentines and end of year discos, and they love performing in concerts and shows.

Sponsorship is a perennial favourite and there is a wide range of things you can do: sponsored walks, bike rides, litter picks and car washes, for example. In addition, you can get some children to volunteer to pack customers’ shopping at the local supermarket.

Slightly more challenging to organise but perhaps bringing bigger returns, are things like summer fetes or fun days. Get the children performing in an outdoor My School’s Got Talent competition, set up a burger or BBQ bar, put out some tombola and games stalls and charge the kids to throw wet sponges at the head. With a small entry fee and profits from the activities, it can be a real winner. You can do an indoor one at Christmas too, raffling chocolate reindeer, selling mince pies and charging to see Santa.

There are many more things you can choose to do and many that will be unique to your school. It just takes teamwork to get them up and running.

External Funding

There is actually a lot more external funding available than most schools are aware of. Besides national projects such as the National Lottery, there are many local, sometimes little-known sources of funds. Often donated by local philanthropists or bequeathed in wills, these funds are generally administered by local authorities.

To obtain funding, you would need to meet certain criteria and complete a detailed funding application. At ESP Play, we provide a Funding Bid Writing and Management Service where a member of our team will manage your application from start to finish to increase the likelihood of you securing the funding you need.

Besides applying for funding, you can also write to local companies and ask them if they would like to contribute towards the costs or perhaps sponsor some of the project work. It might mean a spot of free advertising in your newsletters and programmes, but it could be worth your while.

A much more modern approach is to put your project on a crowd-funding site and see if you can raise the money on the internet. This way, you can reach a much wider audience, especially if you can get the word out on social media.

If you intend to raise money for PE equipment, such as a multi-skills zone, you can also use your Sports Premium budget towards the costs.

Conclusion

If you really want your school to benefit from the installation of playground equipment but don’t have the financial resources within your school’s budget, there are many ways you can raise that money through fund raising events and by applying for external funding.

If you need more detailed information about applying for external funding, contact our Customer Care Team on 01282 43 44 45 or via our contact form and we will send you our FREE funding guide. Our guide includes information on how to use ESP’s unique Funding Bid Writing and Management Service; what products you can spend your Sports Premium Budget on; and how to acquire funding directly from ESP.

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