In a small village adjacent to the town of Ballincollig in Cork, the team at Crann dreams as big as the children, young people, adults, and families they serve. The “big idea” was an inclusive play and recreation space in their own backyard.
Inspired by the tree of life, this non-profit trailblazing charity is committed to providing global best practice services to people with neuro-physical disabilities and their families. Such a commitment meant that when the opportunity came about to provide a play and recreation space to extend and build upon the services already offered at Crann, it was never going to be an exception to the rule of best practice. In other words, the Crann community worked out what was the best way to design an inclusive play and recreation space: i.e. that was informed by users themselves, the children, young people and families of Crann. This approach to consultation with users is considered to be so important that the government in 2021, launched a participation framework for services to be able to implement these approaches with children and young people in Ireland.
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.
For the new play and recreation space at Crann, the aim was to develop an inclusive play and recreation space for everyone. 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.
Building upon our experiences, Helen and myself 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.
Committed to best-practice, Crann embarked upon a journey of co-design, combining user experts and professional experts. User experts included children, young people, adults, and families. Professional experts included Crann staff and board members, Shane, and Tadhg Buckley with their expertise in architecture and building, and our team at UCC, supported by Grace Richardson (a now qualified Occupational Therapist).
Firstly, user experts were invited to participate in surveys, focus groups, and reviewing plans for the space to express their needs, wants and desires for the new play and recreation space. User experts informed us that although playgrounds are important spaces in communities, they often experienced these spaces as unusable and were not fun places to be. So, similar to other research in playgrounds around Cork city, we found the same story: that these places can be sites of spatial and social exclusion because of physical barriers to access and social barriers to participation. 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.
Secondly, 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. Ideas for play and recreation solutions were teased out and proposed in the report
Thirdly, following this, Shane and Tadhg devised an initial plan for the space. Helen and I, along with Crann staff members reviewed the plans, and once again returned to the user expert groups to figure out what worked well, and if things needed to be changed. One service user recently lamented: I remember the day we were shown the full design of the playground and leisure area … I was truly ecstatic. Thanks to Crann, I will no longer have limits and barriers to outdoor play, this project is one that will change my life forever. Five rounds of designing and planning followed, as not everything could be accommodated in the space available – priorities had to be figured out, playground components moved about to try and maximise space and circulation, and to try and meet the needs of younger and older users.
Finally, the plan was set: the new play and recreation space is designed to remove as many barriers as possible. Of course, 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 also 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.
We are now at the stage of delivering this truly unique play and recreation space, that is evidence-informed and bespoke to its location. Most of all, it is evidence of how Crann seek to put children and families at the heart of their work to enhance wellbeing for all.
With your support, we’re bringing this important space to life. Your donation will bring joy and thrills to children and adults with disabilities who don’t get the same play experiences as their siblings and friends.
For more information about the ways in which you can support this project, click here.