Apr 24, 2017 Last Updated 12:59 PM, Apr 20, 2017

The allure of sand: Updating play facilities

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The home of children's play, Wicksteed Park seeks to encourage repeat visits and keep interest in the park high by regularly updating the facilities, year on year. In previous years this has included investing in new rides, indoor play facilities and huge zip wires and climbing walls.

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Established in 1921, Wicksteed Park was the first dedicated children’s play park in the UK, created with equipment specifically for children set in the 147 acre country park. The Kettering park was founded in 1921 by Charles Wicksteed, realising his vision to inspire and encourage play as part of families’ health and well-being. He established The Wicksteed Charitable Trust to carry out his work after his death and keep his dream alive.

In addition to the paid-for rides, freely available play equipment is central to the Wicksteed ethos. They have extensive free play equipment and decided to ramp up the play offering investing in a new sand and water beach play area, designed and installed by Timberplay.

One of the key features of the site is the AQuadrat, a flexible modular waterplay system and the first to be installed within the UK. This innovative water play product combines solid oak timbers, with mushroom pump and metal gutters. Designed by Timberplay’s partner company, Richter Spielgeräte, this robust product is a great way to provide water play, particularly when used alongside sand to create varied play opportunities for children from the very young through to pre-teens.

Paul Collings, Managing Director at Timberplay comments on this key piece of equipment: “We have been championing waterplay for many years now – nothing beats the play value that waterplay consistently delivers. It is also one of the most inclusive forms of play you can have, all children can share in the play experience, across all abilities and ages.

“The AQuadrat is such an attractive and robust piece of equipment and, as it can be installed as a standalone piece, it is a great way of injecting water play into any play space. Wicksteed were quick to recognise the potential of this piece and have used it to great effect within their new sand and water play area.”

Wicksteed Park has also capitalised on the rich play opportunities provided by extensive sand play.

Paul continues: “You only need to observe children playing on a beach to recognise the allure of sand – digging, piling, building, scooping, combining with water etc, the ways in which children can interact with sand are infinite. Not just for the very young either, children up to the age of 10 can be enthralled by sand and it is also one of the most inclusive play materials around. The added bonus of sand is that it also particularly effective as a safety surface, satisfying safety criteria, but also providing stimulating fun, something that wet pour does not.”

Striking the right balance between safety and playability can seem like a tough task, and all to often it seems wet pour is viewed as the perfect solution, particularly when it comes in many different colours and patterns. However, even ‘fun’ wet pour delivers relatively little in terms of play value – and this should be the key factor in developing any sort of children’s outdoor play space.

All the delights of beach play have been encapsulated into the new designs for the landlocked Wicksteed Park. An extensive sand play area includes cranes, chutes, tippers, platforms and cranes, perfect for transportation play.

Alasdair McNee, Director at Wicksteed comments: “Since its inception, Wicksteed has been about delivering the best in children’s play – inspiring children to get out and enjoy the park by providing specialist equipment specifically for children. Over the years the park has evolved, adding varied play equipment, roller coasters and rides to complement the tranquillity of the historic park. This new addition is extremely popular and has been mobbed since it opened, with children, parents and carers camping out for the day. We have many and varied play opportunities throughout the park, but waterplay was one thing we knew would be a very popular addition with our users – and that has certainly been proved to be the case.”

Alongside the extensive sand play area, AQuadrat and waterplay there is also a number of pieces created for toddlers, for example the Platform Houses and Peter Horse Cart and Swinging Horse, all grouped in a Play Village.

Wicksteed attracts 350,000 visitors per year and is free to enter. There are a number of paid for attractions, but the water and sand play is free for all park users.

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