How Peabody and Timberplay are using play to create stronger communities
With over 55,000 homes, Peabody is one of the largest housing providers in London and the south-east. They deliver services to 111,000 residents, 8,000 care and support customers, and the wider communities in which they work.
Peabody focus on those who need help the most, working with people and communities to build resilience and promote wellbeing. They create and invest in great places where people want to live.
Elizabeth Connelly is a Project Manager working within Peabody’s six-strong Landscape Regeneration Team. She believes that the surrounding green spaces are of critical importance and as such the provision of play is a key element.
“Our outside spaces are very valuable in for building strong communities. Our tenants may have very different identities in terms of culture and language, and the provision of shared play spaces can be a great tool in fostering better communication, breaking down barriers and building relationships. Play value is always the aim across all our play spaces, creating multi-level play opportunities to appeal to children across a wide range of ages and abilities. Durability is another consideration so we can meet budgets for building and maintaining the play areas.
As a child growing up in a rural setting, my play was climbing trees, building dens, sliding down banks and paddling in streams. As such I have been hardwired to the benefits of natural play. However, for many of the children in our properties, access to the countryside is a rarity or even non-existent. This means that they are unaware of the benefits of the natural world and the positive impact it can have on general wellbeing and mental health. So within our play areas we aim to provide various levels of challenge and variety of play experiences in order to compensate for the lack of access to the natural world.”
Many experts assert that it is of vital importance for children to access the natural world from an early age – as this benefits their development, relaxation and positively impacts on their adult life. One hypothesis, Biophilia, explores the connections that human beings seek with the living world. This theory argues that children need engagement with the natural world from a young age in order to unlock the benefits throughout their life; stress relief, greater sense of place, inner calmness. Children deprived of access to nature are more likely to become adults who are unable to recognise the value of time within the countryside. Not only is this a shame for the individual but it is also potentially problematic for society as emerging generations need to take the mantle of custodians of the environment – and for them to successfully do this they need to understand why protection of our green assets is of vital importance.
Pioneers of the natural play movement, Timberplay, have worked with Peabody on a number of their installations. Vince Hallam, Managing Director, comments on how effective play can be in providing the vital links to the natural world:-
“The joy of play is that it is non-directed, children independently choose to play in their own way with whatever environment they are exposed to. Uninspired play spaces and equipment or settings that are too prescriptive will obviously not become the favourite places for play for children as there is little to appeal to children to keep them returning and finding new ways to interact with the space. The imaginative way in which Peabody approach their space design, maximising play value within relatively small pockets of space, is a great service to their tenants. Within a budget, Peabody do their very best to include a wide variety of play experiences – many of which will be found in the natural world. The experience of climbing a tree, for example, requires constant focus and concentration in order to successfully meet the challenges. We try and include comparable levels of challenge in our climbing structures, a child has to really engage in order to successfully ascend, traverse and descend and can find an appropriate level of challenge for their age and ability.”
The Landscape Regeneration Team at Peabody are currently working on the development of seven sites and over the last year have opened eight new areas. These include a toddler play area and a climbing wall in the central space of the Walworth Road estate. By using small spaces and repurposing these for play, Peabody have developed unique pocket play opportunities which will appeal to children from toddler to teen.
One of the key moments within the design and installation of a Peabody play area is the opening event. Throughout the process the design team work closely with Peabody residents to create the play space they want. The opening event is a celebration of that process and a real way to mark the completion of the site, passing ownership onto the local community. Feedback from residents on these projects has been overwhelmingly positive.