Local community come together to transform disused bowling green to vibrant adventure play area


A dynamic community group have succeeded in creating an exemplary community playspace in the heart of Royal Tunbridge Wells. In only two years the project at Calverley Grounds has gone from inception to completion and the disused bowling green has been reborn as a play area of exceptional quality. With just over 12 months to reach their fundraising target of £225k, their journey could serve as a ‘how-to’ guide for aspirational community groups – utilising community support, grant funding, invaluable local residents and professional connections to create a stand out play area.

The project was launched in October 2015, when the Chair of the Calverley Adventure Grounds committee (a sub group of the Friends of Calverley Grounds), Rhiannon Harfoot, presented the ideas for the scheme at a public meeting and also during a Business event. This succeeded in garnering widespread community support for the scheme, which was maintained by means of a well-organised social media campaign managed by passionate internet savvy volunteers. The Group also benefitted from a project logo and website, created by a creative local resident– giving the scheme a professional edge.

The site of an old bowling green was identified as the ideal spot for the new adventure play area. Unused since 2005, the green had the potential to enable challenge and delight children in amongst the landscaped Victorian park. With the variety of skills within the committee, the project was always destined for success, particularly when renowned Landscape Architect, Jennette Emery-Wallis lent her support to the programme. Jennette has been involved in many of the UK’s most prolific play developments over the past twenty years, including the Princess Diana Playground in Kensington Gardens and the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park’s Tumbling Bay.

From the off, the Friends Group were focused on getting the community engaged with the project and canvassed local children to see what kind of play experiences they would like to see in the play area. The children’s responses were utilised in an adorable video, produced by Wildwood Media, which was then used to support the social media and fundraising campaign.

Working within her Landscape Design Practice, LUC, Jennette was able to take on board all of the children’s ideas into the design, creating the blueprint for a play area which reflects the desires of the community and uses the space in the best way possible to deliver the highest levels of play value. Jennette comments on the aspirations of the design:-

“All the elements within the place space are designed to capture the unique essence pf the location. The serpentine sand pit and planted borders are inspired by the stream that once ran through the Calverley Estate and through this site. Play water tables celebrate the Chalybeate Spring which gave rise to the development of the town as an important health-giving spa and the timber playhouses evoke the early beginnings of The Pantiles that sprung up around it. In addition, hand carved oak sheep represent the animals that once grazed the slopes.”

Timberplay provided the play equipment for the scheme, and also donated a number a pieces.

Whilst the design was being refined, the fundraising strategy led by local resident, Kate Bourne  supported by a team of effective helpers, continued apace with a wide range of events scheduled to maintain momentum throughout the year. These included an Easter Extravaganza, Jam Jar Challenge and a Black Tie Ball. In addition the group persuaded acclaimed public artist Gordon Young to design the Calverley Community Wall, which featured the names of the grant bodies, businesses, community groups, families and individuals who have sponsored the project. The piece of art is created in corten steel, inspired by the iron found in the spa waters for which Tunbridge Wells is famed and will act as a lasting legacy of the successful collaborations behind the success of the project.

With only one day before their (self-imposed) fundraising deadline, The Friends of Calverley Grounds hit their target, raising £225k and work began on the successful implementation of the designs.

Timberplay have collaborated with LUC on many projects over the past twenty years and were pleased to lend their support to this project. Marketing Manager, Lilly Elbra, recently visited the completed site:-

“The thing that really transforms the feel of the site is the landscape design. Jennette has, once again, skilfully incorporated the heritage of the site, to create a unique play space that perfectly reflects the history. This results in a play area that offers unrivalled play value, but is also excels aesthetically, sitting comfortably within the classically landscaped park and offering a great place for parents and carers to spend time.”

Amongst the equipment Timberplay contributed to the scheme are an adapted Climbing Forest, Cradle Nest Swing, Platform House, Hut Combination, Balance Beams, Playground Pump with wooden channels, Tractor and Trailer, Jumping Discs and two Sailing Boats.

Situated in West Kent, Royal Tunbridge Wells is a town steeped in history. A spa town in the 1600s and a favourite for the Royal family up until Victorian times, the town is a popular commuter area and benefits from a relatively affluent professional demographic. Doubtless this impacted favourably on the success of the fundraising with a varied schedule of events throughout the year, but the small and efficient Friends of Group also completed many grant application, which resulted in successful awards from a number of sources, including Veolia Environmental Trust and the Suez Communities Trust.

The completion of the project was marked with a formal opening launch where the local children were finally allowed to get to grips with their adventurous and challenging new play space – all documented in another video. It has already become a popular focal neighbourhood space, and the links formed throughout the fundraising campaign have only served to reinforce what was always a strong community. What must be most gratifying for all concerned is the fact that the children’s wishes for their play space have come true whilst they are still young enough to get the maximum enjoyment out of their new favourite play area.


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