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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