Winchester incorporate play into healthy campaign


Olympic Medallist Iwan Thomas recently launched a new healthy lifestyle initiative in Winchester focusing on motivating children in the city to walk to its many play areas.

The character of Wonky the Woodpecker was created as part of a wider Council initiative called Feet First, which promotes walking within the District, thereby increasing exercise levels and reducing traffic.

Inspiration for Wonky the Woodpecker was hit upon during the development of Abbotts Walk play area, developed alongside respected play company Timberplay. Wonky is represented in the form of a wooden statue, inspired by a real woodpecker which decided to make Abbotts Walk its home during the installation of the play area. Wonky, with his distinctive bent beak, offers a child-friendly, recognisable character that gives the play area added personality, but also promotes further engagement via a website, trail leaflets, worksheets and social media.

Each Council-owned play area participating in the scheme has a wooden totem featuring a hidden letter which children can collect to learn the names of Wonky’s friends. Local families can visit all the sites and search for the hidden letters. When all the play areas and open spaces have been visited, the puzzle can be solved and children can send their completed worksheet into the Council to win a prize.

Iwan Thomas, who was invited to officially open the new play area to highlight the importance of physical challenge and stimulation, said:

“I’m a great advocate for improving health and wellbeing of young people. Asking children to find where all the ‘Wonkys’ are hidden adds to the fun of being outdoors. I particularly liked the leaflets with all the walking routes on to link up all the play areas.”

Abbotts Walk play area sits in a very sensitive location, adjacent to a nature reserve, so the Council created a design for play that capitalised on the landscape and featured more natural play products. Timberplay equipment was integrated with natural features such as grass mounding and mown meadow paths to blend the play area into the wider open space. The Abbotts Walk play area features slides, a twin swing, tarzan rope with pendulum seat, balance blocks and a climbing forest. Each piece of equipment is designed to encourage a range of different experiences and emotions – from decision making and concentration to improving balance and coordination. The play equipment fits the needs of children from birth to 18 years old so that local children can continue to enjoy it as they grow.

Ben Harbottle, Sales Director at Timberplay commented on why he was so pleased to be involved in this initiative from Winchester City Council,

“Not only is playing great fun for children but it also provides much needed exercise. Health experts recommend that children should be exercising for around 3 hours per day. Playing is ideal in meeting these targets as it is a freely chosen activity – hanging from monkey bars and climbing is great to build upper body strength, running around is excellent cardio-vascular exercise therefore improving lung function, but, alongside play, walking is essential for physical development. This initiative from Winchester City Council represents a very creative way to support a variety of physical activity within children.”

Cllr Jan Warwick, Portfolio Holder for Environment at Winchester City Council, said:

“Wonky the Woodpecker is a unique and recognisable character and I am delighted that this is encouraging families to explore the variety of play areas in Winchester and enjoy being outdoors.”

The new open space was created as part of development of new Council houses, and has a very natural quality, so the Council needed a play area that reflected this.

For more information on the scheme take a look at


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