Through the GAF funding for Wellingborough town centre, WSP UK developed a design for a play area in the grounds of Croyland Gardens, a small park located centrally in the town. It was known that Croyland Gardens was being used at night by teenagers who were drinking alcohol and damaging the existing park facilities, behaviour which the council was keen to discourage.

Material was chosen for its life span tolerance to vandalism, and at the same time being in keeping with its location and usage. It was also thought that if the children using the play space could have some input into the design, a sense of community ownership would evolve, discouraging any vandalism in the play area. A competition was organised for school children to design images of animals, to adopt both the ‘zoo’ theme and achieve the desired ‘buy-in’ from the local community. The winning designs were engraved on boulders and stepping stones, which were used in the design of a mini obstacle course.

Four wooden chainsaw sculptures were commissioned. The sculptures were all of animals once found in the old Croyland Zoo and were aimed at having a play value for the four to five year age group. The final design included a selection of off-the-shelf wooden play equipment for four to nine year olds, which was all from a sustainable source and complied with EN 1176 standard for play equipment. Pathways have been designed as bound gravel, to enhance the whole of Croyland Gardens and echo the theme of natural materials. These design elements have been united by new planting which has included a variety of forms and scents.

The overall design has carefully blended the town centre location with the use of natural materials, which could offer a more rural feel. A variety of sensory experiences will be available including different feel of varied natural materials, scents from the planting and the sights of the zoo theme being embedded in the sculptures and climbing boulders.

The scheme opened to public acclaim in April of 2011 giving a sense of identity to an otherwise poorly used open space. A sense of ownership has been encouraged by having artwork and names engraved onto some of the play equipment and in general encouraging the public to have an input into the scheme.  The history of the area has helped underpin the design and in turn the design will ensure that the history of Croyland Gardens is not forgotten.

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