Play Together: a design manifesto

Through expert panel member Alison Davies and MADE's head of cultural programmes Jane Puzey, we supported Dudley’s Play Pathfinder using design to improve children’s play in the borough.

Research carried out by the Dudley Play Pathfinder showed that children who are disproportionately susceptible to bullying, including disabled children and those caring for family members, are less likely to use play areas. Without a chance to play, children lose out. They miss opportunities to strengthen social skills, build confidence and learn to assess risks. The neighbourhood loses out on community cohesion. There may be more anti-social behaviour, rising obesity levels and increasing mental health problems among children and young people.

Architect Alison Davies has used this research to develop new design principles which encourage children who feel vulnerable or tentative to enjoy outdoor play. “Simple measures like designing playable routes to play spaces give children a taster of what lies ahead. Tentative children may welcome the opportunity to play on the periphery before finding the confidence to join in with their peers,” said Alison.

“Replacing fences with less formal boundaries which contain more exits gives children the opportunity to slide in and out of the area without ‘threshold fear’. And creating beautiful places encourages parents and carers to stay longer allowing the children to play with confidence due to the adult presence,” added Alison.

These design principles are being put into practice at the new adventure playground in Dudley to make sure all children feel welcome. “We are creating inclusive, exciting and welcoming play spaces in Dudley,” said Keith Rodgers, play pathfinder services manager at Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council. “MADE have managed to take information from the research and transfer this into design principles. As such, we hope that having applied these principles in a wide range of play spaces across Dudley, we can encourage a much wider audience of children and young people to use their local play space. We have backed this up by providing supervised play sessions at play spaces with scheduled times when qualified play rangers can engage children in play.”

Play Together: a design manifesto, published to coincide with Anti-Bullying Week in November 2009, illustrates how the design of play spaces can be genuinely inclusive. The process takes account of the diverse needs of different groups of children, and gives them ownership of the design and development process. The seven design principles are endorsed by MADE, Play England and KIDS. They supplement and complement those set out in national guidance including Design for Play (published by Department for Children Schools and Families and Play England) and Inclusion by Design (published by KIDS).

Play Together: a design manifesto was developed by Architect Alison Davies of Groundworks Architects LLP while working as a MADE Enabler for Dudley Play Pathfinder, building on research carried out by Adrienne Katz, Youthworks Consulting Ltd.

“Many children feel excluded from play spaces. Good design can change this”