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Playing To Win

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Heralded as the first of its kind, a recently opened inclusive and accessible playground in Barnet, North London, is setting the standard for inclusivity across the UK by enabling people of all ages and abilities to play together.

There are one million disabled children in the UK. But research from Scope has shown that half (49%) of parents with disabled children say there are accessibility issues at their local playground, and more than one in ten families living with disability (13%) were unable to enjoy the playground because their children were not able to play together.

Fair Play is a pioneering initiative advocating for inclusive public spaces, beginning with the development of its flagship fully inclusive playground in Barnet. Founded by Deborah Gundle and Nathalie Esfandi in partnership with Barnet Council, the campaign aims to break down barriers, create a more inclusive society, and redefine the standard for public space design.

The Fair Play playground in Barnet directly addresses the challenges faced by the disability community and empowers disabled and non-disabled people of all ages to play together without exclusion or bias. Local residents with disabilities, parents, carers and accessibility experts have been involved in shaping the project from the outset, putting the disability community at the heart of its design.

Fair Play worked with manufacturer Kompan to include accessible equipment which spins, rocks, and swings, along with sensory panels for touch, movement and sound – all selected with the disability community in mind.

Kompan design, make and install a wide range of accessible play equipment that encourages children to play together to learn, socialise and explore, with the ethos of 'Everyone can't do everything, but everyone can do something.' Their universal playground design principles help anyone who is planning an inclusive playground project to create equity in access and use.

"We worked closely with Barnet Council and are delighted with the outcome," said Sandra O'Sullivan, Kompan's Area Sales Manager, who was heavily involved with the project. "It's a fantastic resource for the community and I hope it will be very well used and enjoyed."

Solid safety surfacing across the whole play area ensures it is wheelchair accessible, and the picnic area allows wheelchair users and non-wheelchair users to sit together. There are also communication boards for non-verbal people to use, along with a textured path surface to support visually impaired users to navigate, and only one entrance and exit to ensure users won't leave without their parent's or carer's knowledge.

This flagship initiative may be the first of its kind, but it should not be the last. Fair Play has created a new standard for inclusivity and is calling for local councils to replicate the model and transform the future of play.

The founders of Fair Play, Deborah Gundle and Nathalie Esfandi, with the assistance of Angela Harding OBE, rose to the challenge to bring their vision of a truly inclusive playground to life. The pair raised funds independently and mobilised various partners including Barnet Council, Scope, PiPA Play, and Kompan to construct the playground and lay the groundwork for the future of play.

Deborah, a social entrepreneur and learning disabilities activist, wanted to create a playground that would remove the current barriers of having fun, social inclusion and fitness accessibility. Having a son with a disability, she knows first-hand how vital promoting inclusivity is.

"As a mother with a disabled son, I know how difficult it is for families like ours to be able to play together," said Deborah. "A lot of hard work has gone into this project, and seeing the equipment being used by disabled and non-disabled children side-by-side is incredibly rewarding. I'd love for every playground to allow people of all ages and abilities to play in this way, and we hope Fair Play will act as the blueprint for new playgrounds up and down the country.

"Inclusive play will reduce stigma through positive experiences in a society where social integration and physical fitness are important to all of us."

As a mother of three, Nathalie has always valued the importance of play for physical, social, cognitive, and emotional development, and believes playgrounds are a space where there should be no exclusion.

"Playgrounds should be wholly accessible and inclusive, allowing those with learning and physical disabilities to play alongside their siblings and friends," she told us. "Local governments across the country should take note of this, providing community spaces that serve all ages and abilities."

The playground has been given a gold rating by PiPA PLAY, the UK's only accreditation scheme for evaluating accessible and inclusive play area design. The PiPA scheme is a social enterprise with the sole aim of helping to improve inclusive play facilities for children and families across the country.

"As a mum to a child with a profound disability, I have first-hand experience of what it feels like to see your child excluded from parts of society," said Becky Maddern, PiPA PLAY Director. "Play is fundamental to a child's development and no child or family should be denied the opportunity to access and have fun at their local play park.

"My goal as a parent, and as the Director of PiPA PLAY, is to educate relevant stakeholders on what it means to design an accessible and inclusive playground. The equipment can be created, and change can happen, however the guidelines need to be much more specific.

"The Fair Play playground in Barnet has shown what is possible when accessibility and inclusivity is at the heart of play park design."

Fair Play Barnet has also been supported by Scope as part of its 'Let's Play Fair' campaign that has called for more inclusive and accessible playgrounds across the UK.

Scope is a charity that works towards equality for disabled people. It provides practical and emotional information and support when it's needed most, and campaigns relentlessly to create a fairer society.

James Taylor, Scope's Director of Strategy and Social Change at disability equality charity, Scope, said, "Fair Play is a brilliant project, and this playground will be an excellent community resource. Every child has an equal right to play. Play feeds imagination and forms friendships. Our playgrounds are places where memories are made and where children can be themselves.

"Yet many disabled children can't enjoy their local playground because the equipment isn't designed for them. It leaves disabled children shut out and missing childhood experiences. For some disabled children, inaccessible equipment has even put their safety at risk.

"We hope this will lead to many more inclusive playgrounds for disabled children to enjoy and play with their friends. We hope that other councils use this project as an example to help transform their own playgrounds."

The half a million pound playground has been paid for through independent funding and donations, including £100,000 coming from Barnet Council.

This article can also be read on p18-21 of the March/April issue of Inclusive Design Magazine here.

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