100 Years of Play – Wicksteed

Historic photographs fascinate me; they are one of the best ways to get an introduction to a story when we weren’t around to experience it first-hand. So when I came across pages of black and white photographs depicting old style play equipment I was instantly draw in and began reminiscing about playing the super-fast wooden roundabouts, the sturdy rocking horse and the ‘Witches Hat’. I then noticed that in some of the Images children and adults were often shown either hanging upside down or on swings that went horizontal or so high, I’m sure some of them would have got vertigo. Finally I noted the tile of the article ‘100 Years of Play’……well that explained the knee length shorts, flat caps and suits and I’d love to know how the lady wearing heels, facing the ground managed to kept her hat on whilst flying through the air.

100 Years of Play

Follow link to the full article

100 Years of Play

What I really stood out from these images is that in many ways the principles behind some of the play equipment, the play action or activity in some cases hasn’t changed that much. Swings and slides have got lower and roundabouts slower. No doubt in response to the demands made by Health and safety regulations. I’m sure I’m blocking out many scraps and knocks and bruises from rickety equipment and hard surfacing.

100 Years of Play

One of the main challenges that Wicksteed have to overcome is how to keep their play equipment as adventurous, challenging and relevant to suit the demands of that generation. The 100 years of play development is testament to their ability to continue to respond to change in demands and trends. The changes that I most welcome are those that address inclusive play. There’s along way to go with this concept but with companies like Wicksteed innovating and adapting their products it will be interesting to see how play equipment develops in the future.

100 Years of Play

But no need to wait another hundred years to check out their latest products

Parkrun – the challenge on our landscape.

Does the concept of Park Run require us to change the way we design and regenerate parks, open spaces and green routes?

Articles in the media highlighted a conflict between having free healthy activities for all verses the Councils pressures to provide quality open spaces. Should councils charge for Park Run events and charge for parking in otherwise free locations?

For those who are not familiar with Park Run, it’s a 5k race for anyone to join in where you are timed and only compete against yourself unless you decide otherwise. It’s about personal challenges and goals. It appeals to the young and old alike and canines are welcome. You just need a pair of trainers, a few extra layers in the winter and the desire to give it a go. It’s sociable, its free, its outdoors, its healthy, it’s a regular event and it seems you are never far away from a venue. So what’s the issue?

parkrun logo

Park Runs in some areas may have become a victim of their own success and the sustainability of some events is unclear.

Whist you are running against yourself you may be joined by hundreds of people not including the supporters and volunteers. What started as one race with 13 people back in 2004 in Bushy Park, Teddington is now a worldwide event which has been known to encourage even the most dedicated of couch potatoes to get moving. It must be the most successful uptake of people exercising since Zumba classes or when the country had Olympic fever. Park Run is an amazing concept and well attended events often occupy to capacity some parks for a few hours on a Saturday and for some locations Sunday mornings for junior runs.

I’m sure most will agree that there should be access to ‘tax free’ exercise for all, So why have same councils considered charging for these events to be run which will no doubt make it less attractive option for many?

The unprecedented increase in the use of these spaces is not sustainable in some locations. Events and have taken over some parks damaging footpaths not built to sustain the wear of hundreds of people and shorting the intended life span of the path, grass areas churned up as paths are too narrow to accommodate the numbers people at any one time, Overflowing car parks with cars parked on grass verges and under trees which is essentially causing thousands of pounds of damage. Some of the venues just can’t cope and the damage the grounds can be extensive and at some point may no longer be suitable for the runs. Repairs will be inevitably be required so arguably isn’t an event free of financial obligations, not really. Some local authorities are already incorporating parking charges at event locations that where once free.

Wimpole Estate Parkrun

If the councils don’t charge who pays for it….the NHS, Sponsors and private donations. Budgets for maintaining parks and open spaces are at an all-time low as they are not classes as statutory service such as refuse collection that the council have to provide. Yet in contrast there is an increased need to get people outdoors, to be sociable, to get active to reconnect with nature. The health benefits of access to quality spaces is well documented and the message seems be getting through to people. The problem appears to be the funding.

  • Are councils right to consider collecting revenue to supplement diminished maintenance budgets and to pay for the repairs caused by the events?
  • Should Councils accept the increase in use of these parks?
  • Should parks and open spaces be a Statuary responsibility due to the health benefits these spaces can offer everyone?
  • As designers how can we and should we try and accommodate the trends, the changes in society and the way we utilise these spaces? Can we make predictions about the future uses of open spaces that set them up to be sustainable?
  • Do we still use these spaces in the same as we did in the 1900’s and if we do is that because it’s all the designs allow for? Is it time to break with the traditional concept of parks?
The debate continues….

Let us know what you think via our social media streams.

Twitter: @lizlakedesigner



Three minute interview…Steve Woodhouse

Brief introduction, name, job title, location.

Steve Woodhouse, Lead 3D artist, 3D Animator & videographer. Stansted Office. I joined Liz Lake in 2005.


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

I always really enjoyed track and field sports at school & loved the film making process (Behind the scenes etc.) So a job creating 3D visuals was a good foot in the door.


How did you get to be where you are today?

I came in as a junior & progressed to creating a multi-disciplinary 3D division developing basic proposals to detailed photomontages.


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

The diversity of work is very important to me! Developing & expanding the 3D department is my main drive.


What is your proudest achievement?

Landing my first animation contract with Disney Juniors & seeing it in action felt great!

Laps around Daytona is a close 2nd


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

Happy wife, happy life.


What is your next adventure / goal?

Hit the best downhill MTB runs in Slovenia this year & expand our 3D & filming operations.


See some of Steves work here

Three minute interview…Oliver Chapman

In a series of interviews we chat quickly with the latest member of the Liz Lake Associates team, Senior Chartered Landscape architect Oliver Chapman.

Brief introduction, name, job title, location.

Oliver Chapman, Senior Chartered Landscape Architect, Nottingham Office. I joined Liz Lake in November 2017.

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

I don’t think I knew! It was always going to be something design related and I was always good at geography, so I suppose becoming a Landscape Architect was a hidden destiny!

Or a rock star…

How did you get to be where you are today?

On the bus… That and hard work.

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

Difficult to say really. You get different satisfactions from different aspects of the job which is the joy of it, every day is different!

What is your proudest achievement?

That’s a toss up between getting my chartership or being there when one of your projects is officially completed. We’re privileged to design and build the environment that we all live in so when you feel like you have got it right it’s a great feeling.

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

Work will always be there tomorrow.

What is your next adventure / goal?

Looking to buy my first house in 2018

Oliver Chapman

Three Minute Interview…Andrew Cottage

Brief introduction, name, job title, location.

I am Andy Cottage, I’m a Senior Associate with Liz Lake Associates and I lead our Nottingham office.

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

When I was at school the plan was to become a Zoo Vet and then to take over from David Attenborough when he hung up his boots. Luckily, I chose a different career path because he’s still going (and thank goodness for that!).

How did you get to be where you are today?

I studied Landscape Architecture at Thames Polytechnic (now Greenwich University) under Tom Turner. Geoffrey Jellicoe visited from time to time and I loved my time there. As part of the course we spent three weeks in Lisbon working with our Portuguese equivalents. We visited many quintas and I developed a love for the agrarian landscape – beauty and edibleness in one place – what could be more satisfying?!

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

I enjoy the fact that every day is different. As part of my drive to develop a diverse client base I do lots of networking and I enjoy meeting new people and finding innovative ways of working together. I like to make the most out of any project and will seek out opportunities that maybe others would miss. I also like to give colleagues opportunities so that they can grow and develop to their fullest potential.

What is your proudest achievement?

I am proud of many things. Establishing a new office in Nottingham and seeing it grow; winning awards for projects that I have been a part of; seeing people enjoying one of our projects; seeing the benefits that great schemes can deliver to communities……………… the list goes on and on.

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

Give it your best shot – what’s the worst that could happen?

What is your next adventure / goal?

The next goal is to make sure that the Nottingham office is stable and secure (do I sound like Theresa May?!). To do this we have taken on some great talent and will continue to keep our clients satisfied by delivering really good work.


Stansted Mountfitchet War Memorial

Whenever we can we like to work on projects in the local area that the Parish Council presents to us. Stansted Mountfitchet still retains its charm and has many historic elements, particularly along Chapel Hill and Lower Street which fall under the village’s Conservation Area. Stansted Mountfitchet War Memorial is found at St Johns Church on Chapel Hill. This still forms and poignant place for reflection and a place to congregate for Remembrance Day.

Stansted Mountfitchet Parish Council approached us to revamp the Memorial. The path was becoming tired with rotting timber edging boards flanked by high maintenance bedding displays, changed twice annually. Benches not accessible to some visitors with mobility issues and gravel pathways that were converging with the grass. In essence, the Memorial still served its purpose, but was looking tired whilst doing so.


Our work looked at developing subtle design improvements that would sit well in the Conservation Area. The materials had to be durable and if possible reduce the cost of maintenance as Council budgets are continually squeezed. We produced two design options, very similar in their form, but one proposing a slightly more expensive scheme with more opportunity for seating.

Here are the proposed options:

Option 1

Stansted War Memorial Option one Stansted War Memorial Option one ZOOMED

Option 2


Stansted War Memorial Option two Stansted War Memorial Option two ZOOMED

The local Secondary School performed a small public consultation on behalf of the Parish Council to gauge public perception of those passing by the site. It was very strange being asked what I thought about the design that I had drawn…

The implemented scheme is a combination of the two design options. Some elements have not been installed, but this is at the discretion of our Client. What can be said is that the new design is a great improvement and the site looks rejuvenated. Further to this, the memorial will be professionally cleaned and the stone engravings made clearer in time for Remembrance Day 2017.  An uplighter has been installed so that the floodlight could be removed and the planting is no longer annuals, instead perennials and roses now border the path.

It was a pleasure to work on such a project and give something back to our community.

Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown – By John Phibbs

Long term landscape historian and Liz Lake Associates heritage expert consultant, John Phibbs is famous for his work relating to all things Capability Brown. In this blog (taken from Johns website, thebrownadvisor.com) he discusses Browns ability to design and make large lakes at some of his most inspirational landscapes, especially given this was the 18th century…

234: Could Brown have made his lake at Belvoir?

An unexpected but nonetheless welcome slew of fresh post has washed across the breakfast table, leaving in its receding tide the wrack of those questions that arise unbroken and yet entangled in the miasmic effusions of that Zeno of mystery, the lake-maker Capability Brown.

The most prominent amongst them was captured a fortnight ago by Mr R of Islington, who has not been alone in asking: if Brown made his lakes by damming up a valley, how much did he have to excavate? We have tried a half dozen ways of tackling the issue at the Tatler’s Waste-bin and I have rendered our lucubrations in several notes already, however I overruled the reluctance of my companions to return to the subject, for I had come to the Snug armed with the latest that LiDAR technology can offer, synthesised into a single drawing by Nick Haycock of HEC.


For a larger size image go here

On this Nick showed that if Brown had built his dam where he proposed at Belvoir Castle, opposite the village of Woolsthorpe, and if there had been no attendant earth-moving, not only would he have had to build the biggest of all his dams – not impossible – but without very considerable earthworking the shape of the lake would have been very different both from what Brown intended, and from what was actually done when the lakes were built in the 1820s. Nick’s drawing shows as a blue shape the lake that would have resulted without earthworking, if it were to reach as far south as Brown intended.

I had seen fit to add to the drawing an outline in brown of the shape of the lake proposed by Brown, so as to compare the two.

Captain Ken held that this was all nonsense as Brown did not have the surveying skills to predict the levels or shape of the lake when he drew up his proposal. However I found Mr Honey more persuasive, when he pointed out that Brown’s lake could have worked for, if we judge his proposal to have been accurately drawn, then he planned to move the water course of the River Devon to the east. This would have entailed an enormous amount of earth to be cut out from that side, plenty enough to build up the west and smooth out the line of the west bank. Mr H went on to point out that by so doing, Brown planned to bring a touch of the serpentine into a river that for all its minor meanders was essentially straight; and then knocked the Captain to the floor I fear with his comment that the south end of the lake as built in the 1820s (which I have added to the plan as a red outline) was very close indeed to what Brown had proposed. Finally, for he was not yet finished, Mr H commented that had Brown’s design been completed it would have made a damn fine view from his bridge at the south end of the lake, along the whole length of the water and out to the Vale of Belvoir beyond with the water-washed village of Woolsthorpe on the right, and the Castle on the left.

Now the great lesson, which I submit here to Mr R, is that the addition of a dam to obstruct a river valley will not automatically create anything like a Brownian lake. The effortless appearance of an irresistible great river must be hand carved throughout its passage through the landscape.

This truth is evident at Chatsworth, where the old water-course that Brown replaced runs up to a hundred yards or more from his mighty Derwent. Indeed it may often be easier to cut a separate new course for the water, so that the workings will not be flooded during construction.

Surely it is this process that is referred to in Brown’s contract for Trentham (1759)? There he undertook to ‘make the whole Water in Shape and Size according to the Stakes put in for that Purpose, forming its Edges quite round and making them correspond with the Ground on each side’. The stakes put in, and the ground corresponding – these speak of formidable earth-working.


John Phibbs has recently published a book entitled ‘Place Making’ – The art of Capability Brown. You can see a digital version here

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: http://www.inclusiveplay.com/map/

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