Beyond the Playground

Posted on December 13th, 2010 by Charles Boot

Beyond the Playground

We all know that the younger generation needs to be persuaded of the delights of our historic parks and gardens, but the younger visitor all too often spends an unhappy afternoon fighting the urge to roll down banks, dabble in the fountain, clamber in the shrubbery, balance on walls and run across the lawn. If they manage their task then they are rewarded with half an hour on the ugly climbing frame by the car park, an ice-cream and a souvenir pencil sharpener as an affirmation that they enjoyed their day out in a historic garden.

As a result of an often formulaic approach to provision for children, the Society’s conservation officers have long been accustomed to considering the impact of new play facilities within historic landscapes. In urban public parks, playgrounds are perfectly valid and chime well with the site’s historic raison d’être, but in gardens with a history of being private homes, off-the-shelf proposals can sit uncomfortably with the site, its history, and its aim to have a relevance in today’s society.

By thinking a little more imaginatively, we may realise that many historic gardens are inherently suited to children’s play and engagement and suddenly it may no longer seem so necessary to spend those thousands of pounds on some new brightly-coloured play equipment. We may notice a fountain that would be perfect for sailing boats in, if only a little stash of them was left ready on the edge; a Broad Walk that is calling to have a hoop rolled along it; a pond perfect for fishing were there a row of nets; a hill on which a kite could be flown; a Hermitage that would be a thousand times more entertaining were there a hermit in it…

To tackle some of these issues and to generate fresh energy, inspiration and imagination in thinking about children’s play, the GHS has published a beautifully illustrated free leaflet called Beyond the Playground: new approaches to children’s play in historic gardens, with a text by Linden Groves, our conservation officer for the East of England & London. To receive a copy, please contact Louise Cooper, the Adminstrator at the GHS office.

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