Plan Inclusive Play Areas

For most of us we navigate through our surroundings without much thought as to how we got to where we wanted to be and generally don’t question how we will use a space when we get there. For those with disabilities or for the carers of those with disabilities it’s a very different narrative. As landscape designers, I’m sure we have all been guilty at some point of believing that we understand what makes something accessible and inclusive without really thinking about the diverse needs of the end users. Possibly because of the widely used wheelchair logo used to depict the status of a disabled person the perception of a disability is often incorrectly seen as only someone being in a wheelchair. This perception of inclusivity is causing many public spaces fail those who are in greater need for a more considered design solution.

For carers of children with disabilities play areas in particularly can be a disheartening experience. It is often overlooked how essential play is to the physical, mental and social development of a child. The importance of play encourages you to question why it is not accessible to everyone. Whilst the ethos for the design of play areas has come a long way in the last decade with significant improvements the character and setting of play spaces as well as some improvement to the accessibility there is still that additional level of understanding of disabilities that is required.



We had the pleasure of meeting a group of inspiring people at a conference, organised by Inclusive Play, who are educating themselves through creating partnerships and undertaking research with the aim to rectify this misconception of inclusivity in regard to children’s play spaces. Inclusive Play is a play equipment company with a specific goal. They are using their knowledge and skills to develop play spaces as well as the equipment the goes in them so that the facility is for every child regardless of ability. The most significant aspect is that they are not just working towards having play for all children with disabilities but to ensure that these children can play together with children without a disability, therefore to be truly inclusive.


Inclusive Play is actually taking the quality and awareness of inclusive play spaces one hop, skip and a jump further. They have set up system to appraise play area design against a set of criteria which looks at the wider needs of children with learning, mental or physical disabilities. The PIPA scheme can assist local authorities, planners and landscape architects to create new inclusive spaces where the criteria can act as part of the design brief. In addition retrospective assessments can use the same criteria to assist with recommendations on how to bring play space up to a PIPA standard. Two categories are identified, PIPA Community: your smaller, Local, mostly public facility and PIPA Destination, an often larger play area with more facilities which may be public or in a private location open to the public.


It doesn’t stop there, the PIPA accreditation scheme not only acknowledges quality inclusive design it helps to spread the word to the wider public who may wish to visit a fully inclusive PIPA play space. A directory and map of PIPA approved play spaces is available so carers can plan their visits. The map also includes photographs of the play area, allowing parents to see the play area and decide if it is suitable for the needs of their family. The PIPA Map can be found here:

The opportunity to hear from the parents of children with disabilities and the challenges the parents face when trying to provide an enjoyable experience for their family really made us appreciate how beneficial this information is to them. PIPA is not just a useful tool for the parents, it allows the children who face some of these difficulties to choose what play area they go to and what area would make them feel most comfortable.

The conference really highlighted the responsibility we have as landscape architects to help champion the ethos that truly accessible and inclusive play areas become the norm.

Inclusion Diagram

The diagram represents the various ways that children are often excluded or segregated in play areas and how some attempts to integrate children are not fully inclusive. The top circle shows the what the PIPA scheme is aiming to achieve.

Swale design at Grange Farm, Chigwell.

Grange Farm Swale and Balancing Pond

A new swale and balancing pond were created several years ago within the Grange Farm meadows public open space, in order to fulfil the drainage attenuation and filtering requirements, associated with a top-end housing scheme being created adjacent to the meadows.

Grange Farm Chigwell

The surface water runoff from the development area enters the swale via an outfall and flows through the meandering course of the swale eventually connecting directly with the balancing pond. The swale has been planted with a mix of native marginal vegetation, dominated by common reed with other wetland species, creating a habitat attractive to a range of aquatic invertebrates, including damselflies and dragonflies and also used by feeding and nesting warblers, buntings and finches. Whilst providing a hugely beneficial wildlife habitat, the swale has a primary function as an effective filter and forms an essential element of the Sustainable Drainage System (SuDS) for the housing scheme, removing contaminants from the runoff and diffusing peak flows prior to entry to the balancing pond.

Grange Farm Chigwell

Both the swale and the balancing pond were subject to a de-silting and vegetation clearance operation during the late winter 2017, in order to optimise the attenuation function of the SuDS feature prior to completion of the housing scheme. The balancing pond has recently become colonised by great crested newts and is also home to a wide range of other aquatic wildlife, therefore it was necessary to time the works to avoid times when the pond could be inhabited by newts or breeding birds.

Grange Farm Chigwell

As can be seen from the images, both the swale and the pond have responded extremely well to the management operation and whilst now providing optimal attenuation function, the biodiversity of the marginal vegetation is also in tip-top condition for newts and other aquatic wildlife. It also attracts the attenuation of the many visitors to the open space and the wetland area and surrounding wild flower meadows provide a focal point to the Grange Farm environment.

Grange Farm Chigwell

Brownfield Landscape Design

Landscape design is an important integrated process for residential schemes, particularly where a site has complex geological and hydrological issues.


Many brownfield schemes which have contaminated soil require a sensitive scheme of planting which can tolerate poor soil conditions and in instances harsh climatic environments such as extreme rainfall (or lack of) and steep gradients which increases run-off and reduces available nutrients to the root structure within the soil below. Often within residential schemes trees can be seen suffering from poor planting conditions and lack of maintenance, combined with poor species selection these trees will continue to struggle and can eventually fail.

If brownfield sites were left to establish naturally, colonisation would take place, this process of succession would happen slowly over time and planting would need to overcome the often extreme pH values, ranging from 2.5-4.0 for some former colliery spoils, to much higher pH values in brownfield sites. Many of these sites consist of brick rubble, crushed concrete and stone with generally infertile, contaminated soils, as mentioned these brownfield sites would be colonised in a successional nature with immediate weed species such as rosebay, willow herb and coltsfoot with common grasses dependent on the area the site is located. If colonized by Clover this would raise the nitrogen and therefore fertility, eventually resulting in a coarse grass cover. Following this, scrub would establish usually by native willow species which can root into the consolidated soil. Other good pioneer plants include birch, hawthorn and alder.


Landscape proposals have dual purpose, appeasing planning concerns and comments whilst ultimately providing a pleasant environment for residents. Often larger infrastructure schemes such as Littlecombe include existing water courses and large open spaces which often need to contain play elements for several age groups. By retaining and enhancing these natural features the site can become more accessible and create open spaces of varied character and interest. The planting design needs to provide year round interest, where possible this planting will consist of indigenous species, these species increase wildlife habitats and if planted correctly will establish with less failures. The planting also needs to provide a contemporary aesthetic to match the modern architectural design and façade style to each individual plot.


Ultimately the external landscape design needs to be multi-faceted and draw on the rich heritage, varied geographical features and the vibrant social context within the context of each site. The landscape design emphasises these elements through carefully designed and specified materials, including hard surfacing and street furniture to create a contextually appropriate scheme. Once the planting design has been developed a detailed maintenance strategy for the site will be outlined within the Landscape Management Plan. This provides a cohesive and sustainable approach to managing all aspects of landscape, for example reducing the use of chemicals due to the proximity of the watercourse, with permeable paving used at the ground levels to provide sustainable drainage across the site and reduce run-off into the surrounding water course and therefore reduce the risk of flash-floods.

Overall, the landscape design proposals will be developed focusing on the historical and contextual influences within and surrounding the site, whilst applying contemporary elements to create an interesting, experiential landscape. This can be demonstrated through the general design layout, the materials and planting, providing historical references, social spaces, dynamic planting, and a varied and interesting aesthetic.


Liz Lake Associates have worked on many brownfield sites such as the former MG Rover site at Longbridge in Birmingham, read about our involvement in the project here

Lickey_Road, Longbridge

Three Minute Interview…Kristian Bowen

Brief introduction, name, job title, location.

Kris Bowen, Landscape Architect, Stansted Mountfitchet


When you were at school what did you want to be and why?

When I was younger like many boys I wanted to follow my farther into the fire service as I spent a lot of my time there. As I grew older I grew a passion for architecture and engineering.


How did you get to be where you are today?

I got here by a stroke of luck to be honest. During my A levels I studied design but wasn’t sure I wanted to take it further, I found it tough going and was going to drop it. But for my design teacher Mr Cavanagh who basically told my parents and I that It would be stupid for me to drop the subject and that I was ‘quite good’. This spurred me on and I continued and re-ignited my passion for architecture and with my teacher’s guidance I discovered landscape architecture and that I could peruse a career in it and 5 years of study later I’m here and loving it.


What aspects of your job do you enjoy the most, and why?

What drives me and what enjoy the most, is designing places that people will inhabit and enjoy seeing your designs on plan being brought to life. Designing places that people will use for years to come.


What is your proudest achievement?

I think it would be gaining my Masters, it was something I never thought It would be something I could achieve. That and being able to work on some of the practices biggest projects.


What is the best advice you’ve been given in life?

Similar to what Mat previously said, never get stuck always look to diversify your skills and improve your knowledge in many areas.


What is your next adventure / goal?

I want to continue to develop my skills as a landscape and work on and run bigger projects within the practice and push us to achieve higher acclaim within the profession. Just continue to design places people will enjoy.

Kristian Bowen

You can email Kris directly:

The positive impact of Drones & UAV in the landscape

UAV’s or more commonly known as ‘drones’ have been considered a nuisance by many & have been featured in the news on various occasions for air traffic control violations. Also reports of strapping small dogs & cats to them has not done the reputation of drones & their operators any favours. If we cast aside the negative perceptions the public has on UAV’s we can really get down the the incredible possibilities they are capable of.

The DJI Inspire 1 pro: a very popular professional UAV

To use professional grade UAV commercially you will need to gain permissions for operations from the CAA. This process begins with a ground school where the big emphasis is on safety & Airspace awareness. The 2 class days are rounded up with an exam, reinforcing what has been covered throughout the intensive study. On completion you will be asked to create an ‘Operations Manual’. This outlines the flight procedures required for legal operations by the CAA and should be closely followed on every operation. The final step is a flight test conducted by a CAA approved trainer, this was in experience the toughest part of the process but once its passed paperwork pending you are ready to operate commercially.


The possible applications for aerial works are countless & the industry is really starting to pick up momentum. The sectors that relate to landscape that would greatly benefit from aerial works would be Landscape Planning by increasing the ‘imageability’ of our space, enabling a higher level of legibility in visual communication. For site survey the drone can be programmed to operate autonomously gathering multiple photographs to then produce a 3D model based on cloud point data. That can be used to analyse back in the office to get accurate measurements from the 3D model. Pretty revolutionary I think you will agree!

The uses continue with the forestry commission using drones to check forestry health & also agriculture where aerial data can help land owners pin point areas of under performing crops.

Most recently we saw the use of drones first hand, assessing the damage caused by the tragic fire at the Grenfell tower block in London.

To summarise, UAV technology is here to stay & the application possibilities are increasing all the time!

To find out more about these incredible machines and options available, contact Steve Woodhouse.

Bristol’s Community Eco Self-Build is gaining momentum – why not try something like this…

Anyone interested in eco self-build community housing projects, it may be worth while taking a look at some of the things happening in Bristol. On the back of the success of the well-known Ashley Vale project in St Werburghs Bristol, a company was set up by Dr Steffie Broer, one of the original self-build pioneers of The Yard at St Werburghs. Her company is called Bright Green Futures and their key aim is to give as many people as possible the opportunity to build their own eco home and community.  Her journey is just beginning.


St Werburghs The Yard Ashley Vale

My wife and I have been following their work for some time and have recently decided to give it a try ourselves. So, we have recently been selected as one of 14 pioneers driving forward a new self-build community in west Bristol called Water Lilies (why this name?… because it promises a natural swimming pool in the communal garden, YAY!). We are still very much in the initial stages of the project, working together as a group to put together a planning application for the site. It will be a fascinating journey of exploration and adventure over the next 2 or 3 years, and some tears I’m sure.  At the end of the journey, the community will comprise 24 new homes focused around a central communal garden with a community hub building, fire pit / BBQ area, orchard, natural swimming pool (!), bee hives, allotment gardens etc. The community backs on to an existing woodland that stretches for miles and allows direct access to nature.

This blog entry is really to share this experience and get the word out about the work being done by BGF, because I believe this can be an answer towards genuine sustainable living, in the context of the threats facing all of us within our lifetimes, i.e. mass population expansion, climate change and impacts on biodiversity, etc. This is the first project that BGF have initiated in its entirety from inception and therefore it is a prototype for how companies like BGF can make a difference and give ordinary people the chance to design and build their own low impact, high performance home, and form a community. How empowering is that!

For anyone who would like to support the cause and help to get the word out, BGF would like to create a film that will showcase the project and tell the story to others once it is complete. They are trying to raise funds for the film.

Please follow this link to the crowdfunder site.  All you need to do is donate £1 as it is more about the volume of support we get rather than the overall amount. There are some potential rewards for those who would like to donate a bit more, but no need (only 20 days left to show your support).

Three Minute Interview…Philippa Heath, Landscape Architect.

Brief introduction, name, job title, location.

My name is Philippa Heath and I’m one of the Landscape Architects at the Stansted Office.

When you were at school what did you want to be and why?

When I was at school I never really knew exactly what I wanted to do. I always had an interest in Geography and Art and did a lot of music as well.

How did you get to be where you are today?

I came into Landscape Architecture in a more roundabout way than most. I took a gap year after school where I travelled around Europe and down the West Coast of Canada and the US. I then went onto study Geography at Lancaster University. I also studied for a year at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, which was what really inspired me to study Landscape Architecture as my Masters because of the huge variety of landscapes around Vancouver. I then went onto do my Masters at University of Sheffield. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. In the middle of my Masters I worked at Liz Lake as a summer intern and when I finished my Masters last summer I came back to Liz Lake and have now been here full-time for about 6 months.

What aspects of your job do you enjoy the most, and why?

I really enjoy the fact that you’re never doing the same thing. Every project is different and once each project is complete its really satisfying to see how our input can really make a difference to a place.

What is your proudest achievement?

My proudest achievement to date is probably when I won the Landscape Institute Yorkshire and the Humber Award for Design Excellence for my final project for my Masters. It was a proposal for the design and planning of the Limehouse Cut in East London. I never thought I’d win anything and it was a massive shock on the day the exhibition opened.

What is the best advice you’ve been given in life?

Never to limit yourself to what you think you can do, because usually you are far more capable than you imagine.

What is your next adventure / goal?

My next work goal is to become chartered. Outside of work the next goal is to travel to every continent.

phillipa heath

You can contact Philippa directly:



Cambridge University Botanic Gardens

Over the bank holiday weekend I took the opportunity to venture out of Essex up to the Cambridge University Botanic Gardens. Surrounded by the busy urban setting of Cambridge the gardens provides a welcome green space.

As soon as you enter the garden you are transported to a different world, the busy streets and noise from traffic becomes dull and is no longer visible, planting beds full to the brim with Alliums greet you and draw you further into the landscape. With a choice of direction we chose to take the walk through the more wooded area where there were less people headed, it also provided a nice cool walk and a break from the sun which was beating down on us. The path led us to the back of the lake where we were able to get glimpses of what was to come on our journey through the rest of the botanic gardens.

Cambridge Botanic Garden

Exploring the dry gardens next to the lake was by far my favourite part of the garden, not only because they are one of my favourite planting styles but because the way these were designed allowed for the highest user interaction, gravel paths denoted by larger rocks and boulders meandered through the area changing direction every few footsteps and changing in levels. It created so many different views across the gardens and paths lead you out of the dry garden into a totally different style of planting.

Cambridge Botanic Garden

Changes in topography it utilised to the its full potential through out the garden creating vantage points indicating destinations to head to in the gardens. As well as this, planting schemes have carefully been designed to entice users of the garden into different areas, for instance the large leaves of a Gunnera draw users to the waters edge where large stepping stones appear creating an informal bridge across the lake. A bonus to this is that large koi carp swim in and out the lily pads, their bright colours draw attention, inevitably stopping users and allowing them to appreciate the beauty of the space which surrounds them.

Cambridge Botanic Garden

Tucked away from the most popular features of the garden is a beautiful arboretum with mown paths through a sea of daisies. It provides an area to stop and just relax in the area, it also introduces some much needed shade to the garden.

Cambridge Botanic Garden

It was really interesting to see that different people attracted to the Botanic Gardens. There were families with both younger and older children, couples for all ages, tourists and professionals. Overall the botanic gardens are really well designed with open spaces, shade, shelter and calming and active spaces. The garden caters for everyone.

Public realm landscapes, cradle to grave.

If you are under 30 it is not often you may remember schemes being implemented and removed. Particularly giving the increased recognition of the landscape architecture profession and the increase of policy, both good practice and statutory in which we work to.

Maintenance of landscape schemes and choosing the correct plant type is essential to the performance and longevity, particularly with regards to visual amenity. With Secure By Design compliancy often seen as a challenge unless you are a firm believer in its values and statistics, it makes you wonder what happened before this guidance was brought into play in 1989 and landscaping was brought to the forefront in the early 2000’s in public realm by local authorities, landowners and house builders.

Although in the Capital we hear of site specific planting to reduce the chances of assisting crime, be it high density groundcover to prevent hiding objects and increase surveillance. Or the obligatory housing development ‘privacy strip/defensible space’ a firm favourite with developers. We rarely see it make the headlines elsewhere.

A headline article in Northern Ireland broke from trend recently highlighted the importance of this. An embankment to the front of a Belfast Train Station has recently been clear felled after it was assisting in the local drugs trade concealing deals from public view. The pictures beneath speak for themselves but it does raise the question for the designer, where to go from here?




Clearly bringing Secure by Design to the forefront and the public’s interest, how do you go about rectifying a landscape that probably looked like a typecast of every other station in its implementation in 1992. It raises questions such as has it fulfilled its original purpose and purposeful life cycle? Would better maintenance have helped control this? Is this just a normal landscape problem that has been brought to the limelight owing to a problem that today would have been considered from outset?

The answer, probably yes to all. Secure by Design is more prevalent than ever, CDM regulations ensure we actively design safer schemes for cradle to grave, particularly evident on these steep banks and planting styles and attitudes have changed, thankfully. It does highlight, particularly to younger members of the profession the importance of good design and consideration of every plausible aspect. Although styles and maintenance budgets/allocations change, your scheme should consider the long haul.

Whilst we could come up with options and alternatives, redesigns and retrofits. We will wait with baited breathe to see what happens in this space.

Three Minute Interview…Felicity Gannicott, Graduate Landscape Architect

Brief introduction, name, job title, location.

Felicity Gannicott, Graduate Landscape Architect, Stansted


When you were at school what did you want to be and why?

Aged 8, I wanted to be an astronaut discovering planets, finding out how it all worked, reality brought me back down to earth and I decided I wanted to do something where I could make a difference to the lives of people, I recognised that I was creative so decided to pursue a career that would let me explore my creativity and make a difference, Landscape Architecture seemed a perfect fit.


How did you get to be where you are today?

Through a lot of hard work at school and university, and the determination to keep going when the work became difficult. There were a lot of hurdles to overcome especially as university was the first time I was coming across some of the software used in the profession.


What aspects of your job do you enjoy the most, and why?

I enjoy the research that goes into planning applications and probably most of all creating figures and landscape masterplans. I get to present conceptual ideas graphically ensuring they can be interpreted by everyone. Having worked predominantly in the landscape planning side of Landscape Architecture, it is always a great bonus when I am able to get out on Site and can imagine where the proposals will be and from the viewpoints they will be seen from.


What is your proudest achievement?

Professionally, coming out of the undergraduate degree and building knowledge and skills required to write LVIA’s, Green Belt Assessments, Capacity Studies and there associated reports.

Personally, my proudest achievement was organising a Fashion Show for Cancer Research at 17, raising £1800 for the charity. It was a challenge but I discovered I was good at time and people management.


What is the best advice you’ve been given in life?

To work as hard as you can at everything and never give up and try not to put yourself in one bracket where you could get stuck in a position, to be an all rounded.

Show them what you’re made of, go be amazing.


What is your next adventure / goal?

Professionally, to complete my Masters in Landscape Architecture with a view to becoming a Chartered Landscape Architect.

Personally, to complete the Half MoonWalk, walking 15.2 miles around London, in the middle of the night raising money for the breast cancer charity Walk the Walk.


You can contact Felicity directly: