Innovative play experience opens in East Yorkshire


Timberplay has been working with an outdoor play start-up called William’s Den to create a brand new attraction in East Yorkshire. We spoke to the firm’s Sales Director, Ben Harbottle, to find out how it all came together and what’s next for the firm…..

East Yorkshire’s newest family attraction, William’s Den, has just enjoyed its first season thanks in part to Timberplay which designed and delivered the outdoor play area.

William’s Den sought to create an attraction that provided a variety of naturally inspired play opportunities, from the UK’s largest timber indoor play area with a difference, to sand and water sites, playful landscaping, challenging outdoor equipment and den building.

Timberplay worked with William’s Den to create outdoor play which embraced landscaping to create a space which appeals to children across a wide age range. The inclusion of sand and water pumps and channels boosts the play value within the site significantly. Older children have the challenge of the climbing structure and the Cableway. Toddlers can embrace the role play within the platform house or reach new heights in the Cradle Swing.

Timberplay Sales Director Ben Harbottle explains how the attraction has been five years in the development process,

“William’s Den has been in development since 2012, when Christian and Tor Carver had the vision of developing a unique attraction that would mirror the organic play opportunities that they experienced in their own childhoods’ growing up on farms. Christian and Tor met with Timberplay very early on in the development, in 2013, and they worked together on developing a plan that would exploit the play potential of the landscape as well as utilising products from Richter Spielgeräte. ”

Tor Carver, owner of Williams Den, explains that they wanted to create something notable for the local area:-

“East Yorkshire is a beautiful county with a rich history which is often misrepresented within the press. We wanted to address this by creating an original, high quality attraction that put the region on the map and was something that we could all share pride in.”

The project has ended up costing a not insignificant £3m. Harbottle explains what the firm was seeking to create in its development site – maintaining its natural feel but incorporating plenty of different play elements.

“The owners of Williams Den had significant input with the design and development of the outdoor play area, and one of the first things that strikes you when you enter the space is the feeling of space. The play products are very spread out with the landscape delivering excellent play value. In terms of products, the play areas has a double Cableway, Hexagonal Swing, Tractor Tyre, Cradle Nest Swing, Climbing Structure, Caterpillar Wall and Platform House with sandplay features. However, it is the landscaping that really makes the space unique. A boulder stack creates an interesting play feature, motivating children to clamber to the top to get a great vantage point of the site. A natural amphitheatre has been created in the grass, which can be used for performances, but also delights children as they jump and run between the levels. A series of mounds, tree trunk bridges and tunnels delivers great play potential as children can explore the feature in a myriad of ways.

The sand and water area is a key play element as it encourages great social play between the children across a very wide age range. The playground pump is the water source and the water flows into a pebble playscape, through dam wedges and water switches, encouraging children to work together to get the water to move through the system, damming it and diverting it as they choose before the water exits the stream into the sand. The water alongside the sand means that children can become little scientists experimenting with the effect of the two components together. The combination proves fascinating for children, digging out channels, creating pools, sand castles, walls and structures. The Platform House adds another dimension as children work together to use the sand crane to transport sand to the top of the platform before sending it back down the chute.”

William’s Den claims to be a unique attraction as it relies totally on play for its visitor numbers.

“We have seen nothing quite the same as this within the UK before. The attraction market as a whole has seen significant growth as attractions have been using Timberplay to create stand out play facilities to differentiate them from the competition.

Attraction Managers are becoming increasingly savvy about what makes a good play space and recognising the value of what Timberplay offer. Regardless of their level of investment, they are seeking to make it count by investing in pieces of kit or playful landscaping that deliver high levels of play value to better support repeat visits on increased dwell time.”

Whilst the William’s Den project has been a long term commitment, the firm has been busy elsewhere and has just completed a project at Chester Zoo with BCA Landscapes, which is also starting the next phase of its play development.

One of the largest Farm Attractions in the UK, Odds Farm, has worked with Timberplay for the past three years to enhance their offering with a variety of play experiences.

The firms current set up, with around 30 members of staff, it is adept at juggling installation teams and schedules to deliver simultaneous projects. The schedule can vary depending on the size of the job, staffing and client schedules.

International markets are also becoming a bigger part of the firms focus:-

“We have recently completed a project at Al Ain Zoo in Dubai and are also developing a number of sites worldwide”, says Harbottle, “Details to follow when installation is complete. We have also recently appointed an International Business Development Executive to develop these new markets further.”

With increased interest in new indoor and outdoor play facilities and a market demanding even more original themes and adaptations, Timberplay is well placed to grab more market share both here and abroad.

Traditional and somewhat low tech it may be, but it seems the continued popularity of wooden play equipment is stronger than every right now.

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