Scotland's Play Strategy: Playing with quality and equality: a review of inclusive play in Scotland

A review of inclusive play in Scotland.

15. Physical Environment

The quality of physical environments makes a hugely significant difference to the quality of children and young people's experience and opportunities for play

When we asked about barriers to inclusive play, the quality of physical environment (indoor and out) emerged as a frequent sources of dissatisfaction, both from children and young people and from adults. This theme emerged across all of the Play Strategy domains encompassing homes, gardens, community spaces, school grounds, playgrounds/play parks, streets.

"Play space designers are very distant from play specialists in terms of how they approach things e.g. designers of a park in North Glasgow gave the children a catalogue and asked them to choose the equipment they would like from it."

A 'Wish List' from four children using CHAS (Children's Hospice Association Scotland) services included;

  • "Better parks - more equipment for wheelchairs. The child said they can't use any park in the area as he depends on his chair and can't transfer to play equipment.
  • Access to technology
  • More places inside for when it's raining
  • Places to play that are free"

We chose to focus one of the Review events on Public Space and the Built Environment, targeting invitations to individuals and groups with a specific interest or role - architecture, planning, arts, sustainable transport, play space design, parents. There were numerous points to be made in this regard and the following gives a flavour of discussions.

"Planning is for housing and car parks, not for children. The environment needs to be adapted to provide play space. In this context a street which is a thoroughfare is not play space."

"Private developers are interested in maximising profit, not in creating rich play environments. It isn't their job. The result is that play parks or areas in new private developments tend to be tokenistic."

"Some planners are more aware than others. This is about not just building houses but about creating liveable/living areas."

"Housing can be an issue for all families but especially where there is a child with a disability. Local authority housing can be in closes without lifts so equipment and children need to be juggled. Gardens are communal and not necessarily well fenced or safe (…) In an ideal world families would have better and easier access to their accommodation and there would be better access to safe enclosed outdoor garden spaces and/or more play parks which are available to families on their doorstep so to speak. Opportunities to promote wet weather play venues would also be helpful." (Survey respondent)

Planning Aid Scotland and Sustrans were cited in interesting examples from the survey.

"Children and young people were consulted and engaged on re-designing a key route to the local school. They helped with the design of pavement feature which they (and adults) could use for play en route to and from school. Sustrans commissioned an artist to work with schoolchildren to design a map of their local area/community including the routes that they take to school. This map is displayed in a waiting shelter for parents who are collecting their children from school and has also been printed and distributed locally. Planning Aid for Scotland facilitated a workshop with some Norwegian professionals who always engage with children when planning new developments - the children are asked to describe and map where in the area they play and travel."

It was suggested that inclusive approaches now in practice in other types of environments could usefully be applied to parks, playgrounds, play parks, play days etc. such as:

The idea of autism-friendly viewings in cinema and theatres could be translated to autism-friendly sessions in park settings (limiting noise and numbers, for example, and accommodating need for structure and predictability).

The idea of "someone in playparks like a lifeguard at a swimming pool" could translate to people in play spaces such as Play Rangers - and it should be said there can be few reviews and consultations into play which have not called for people in parks and play spaces regardless of any focus on inclusion.

The desirability of break out spaces to be incorporated, whether indoors or outdoors, which can be achieved through use of good design and sense of place (quiet seating areas, meditative gardens, gardening clubs - smaller, quieter, calmer spaces which allow children and young people to take some time out and manage stress levels as needed without needing to completely opt out).

"places you don't have to socialise in an unstructured way"

Questions arose over prioritising the upkeep of large central parks at the expense of smaller more localised spaces, and it was suggested that accessible local spaces should be a higher priority than "pretty parks".

The idea of inclusive spaces for children and young people to play was not seen as mutually exclusive with good 'shared space' for all members of a community to use - indeed there were many potential benefits suggested in finding a new way to look at organisation of public space.

It was interesting that in the course of the review examples of really good places to play were often offered with a degree of hesitancy because they weren't specifically labelled as 'inclusive' or in some way 'for' disabled children and young people. And yet, they were places that were really enjoyed for play and created satisfying opportunities where children didn't feel different. It might be surmised that sometimes this was as a result of an underlying ethos and intent, and sometimes by happy meeting of good design and playful people.

  • Many examples of really good places to play which were seen and felt to be inclusive weren't those that had been labelled as such (and some weren't intended primarily for play).
  • It is strongly suggested (from practical examples, children's feedback and projects) that the better design of play spaces in school could have a positive impact on inclusion and yet there appears to be a lack of research, explicit design advice or case studies. Again, principles of Universal Design should feature.
  • Similarly, and despite the efforts of both children and adults to make the best of what they have, a significant number settings for children's services of all kinds in Scotland would appear from the feedback in this review to have physical environments which are not conducive to play, never mind to inclusive opportunities.
  • In all settings, there is an interplay between physical and social environments which has a huge impact on inclusion, as demonstrated by comments throughout this report.

It is not within the scope of this review to enter into a more detailed discussion of the numerous dimensions of this aspect of inclusion but it is clearly a topic of huge importance in relation to inclusion, communities and play.

In carrying out this review and coming to conclusions, much was found to be in common with Good Places Better Health for Scotland's Children (Scottish Government, 2011).

"We would encourage all professions and interested parties involved in 'placemaking', health, children's services and community work to share our vision and use our recommendations along with their own ideas to deliver healthier places for the children of Scotland to grow up in. It is only in people taking true ownership of a shared vision that we can achieve the change we need to see in Scotland." (p9)

This is the vision

"We want Scotland to be the best place to grow up. A nation which values play as a life-enhancing daily experience for all our children and young people; in their homes, nurseries, schools and communities." Play Strategy for Scotland: Our Vision (2013) Scottish Government.

These are some of the things that could help achieve this.

It would help if:

  • With regard to public space and the built environment, principles of Universal Design [4] were taken into account.
  • Pro-active measures were taken to improve the day-to-day play environments offered by schools. It was acknowledged that improvements are arising due to input from organisations such as Grounds for Learning, some local authorities and by the efforts and fundraising of individual schools however play environments in schools were widely remarked upon.
  • Within qualifications for people working for or with children including teachers and playworkers, the Qualification Authority and providers addressed the knowledge and skills gap in creating and sustaining the physical environment for play and inclusion.(See also 18)
  • Community Planning Partnerships and communities used the Place Standard (in development at the time of writing this report[5] ) to improve the quality of places and support the Play Strategy vision.
  • The Place Standard was into account in reporting on the new duties to report on progress on children's rights and wellbeing included parts 1 and 3 of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014.


Email: Deborah Gallagher

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