The New Inclusive Play & Recreation Space at Crann
by Dr. Alice Moore, Department of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy, MSc OT, BSc (Hons) OT, Irish Research Council Funded Researcher
The team at Crann dreams as big as the children, young people, adults, and families they serve. The “big idea” was an accessible play and recreation space in their own backyard.
Play and recreation spaces are important everyday destinations for families to gather, rest, socialise, and participate in play and recreation. However, many individuals, particularly those with disabilities, experience such spaces as sites of spatial and social exclusion because of physical barriers to access and social barriers to participation, constituting a breach of their human rights. Leveraging on their trailblazing approach, Crann wanted to do something about it.
The aim was to develop an accessible play and recreation space. Crann reached out to Dr Helen Lynch and myself, at the Department of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy in University College Cork Helen and I have both committed numerous years to developing international knowledge on how to design for inclusion in play and recreation spaces, underpinned by a human rights-based model.
Helen and I agreed to play a lead role in determining what the priorities were for the play and recreation space. To guide this work, a framework developed in new south Wales, Australia, was adopted (Everyone Can Play (nsw.gov.au)). The framework was underpinned by three guiding principles – can I get there, can I play, can I stay? Also, Universal Design provided conceptual guidance when designing for all. However, a framework and design approach alone were not enough.
Clients at Crann participated in surveys, focus groups, and reviewing plans for the space to express their needs, wants and desires for the new play and recreation space. They informed us that although playgrounds are important spaces in communities, they often experienced these spaces as unusable and were not fun places to be. Significant barriers included: lack of accessibility, loose surfacing, nowhere to swing or slide, and a lack of things to do. Users also told us about good experiences in playgrounds further away, or experiences when on holidays, and what worked well in experiencing success in a playground.
Armed with this information, the dream started coming to life. Our team at UCC pulled together the information gathered and developed a report for the playground designers. The report focused on how to provide for play-actions (e.g., swinging, sliding, hanging out), alongside what the priorities for the space were, and what to avoid. Five rounds of designing and planning followed. including review from the initial focus groups.
The new play and recreation space is designed to remove as many barriers as possible, but this does not mean it is easy to use by everyone or lacks challenge, as this would not be a fun place to be – in our research we have found out that playgrounds need to have challenges and risk for children. This is what makes a playground high in play value!
The new play and recreation space aims to provide something for everyone: from the swings to the bespoke pirate ship, the playhouses to a sensory area, the trampoline to the gym equipment, the carousel to the rockers and music instruments, the vegetable garden to the social area with pizza oven and BBQ facilities, to the basketball court. It extends the current services offered by Crann, for example, independent living skills with the Pizza oven and BBQ facilities, as well as wheelchair skills programmes, with the vast array of opportunities for wheeling. And of course, it is a space to have fun, hang out and socialise.