Nottingham - a rich history of Adventure Playgrounds 

The first Adventure Playground in Nottingham was St Anns Adventure Playground which opened in 1971, this was followed by others in Broxtowe, Balloon Woods, Edwards Lane and Tennyson Street in Radford, which all opened in the 1970s.  Later, Forest Fields Playcentre opened in 1986 and much more recently the opening of ‘The Ridge’ in Bestwood in 2010. 

In the late 20th Century children’s ability to roam and play freely was increasingly impacted on by both urban development and an increase in cars. Parents wanted safe, exciting places for their children to play that were close to home. 

Local communities worked together to set up adventure playgrounds and play projects, often on derelict land or spaces. They were managed by Management Committees consisting of parents, local people and a variety of volunteers who would assist in the day-to-day running alongside Playworkers.  


They all had a uniqueness that in part came out of their environment. They were often situated next to housing developments such as the Balloon Woods Flats where a family garden would be rare.
 

St Anns, Forest Fields, The Ridge and Broxtowe, renamed ‘Phoenix’ Adventure Playground after being rebuilt in 2006, are still operating and offer free play sessions for children aged 5-13 that are delivered by Nottingham City Council. Tennyson Street and Balloon Woods both closed within the last 10 years. We think that Edwards Lane closed in the 1980s, see photo here taken from a demonstration in Old market Square to save the adventure playgrounds, we think from 1980, although no credit exists for many of these photos. 

Community Hubs 

As we were collecting the play memories people spoke about their time spent playing at these projects including Helouise Miller who can be seen playing at St Anns Adventure Playground here in 1975. Photo by Lloyd Edgar  

You can also hear memories of PlayWorkers in Nottingham such as Kim Whysall, Mo Francis and Dawn Claypole describe their work in Forest Fields and St Anns. 

Many of the photos on the PlayBack website are taken at these adventure playgrounds and depict the temporary play structures that were built by children with support from Playworkers, volunteers and members of the community. They give a glimpse into the adventurous play of the time. The sheer joy depicted on some of the faces speak for themselves.  

 

Nottingham’s Adventure Playgrounds and Playcentres were focal points for the communities in which they were set. They brought children and families together and several of the playworkers that worked there started off as a parent, bringing their own children to play before becoming involved in the work. 

 

Magical Spaces 

Adventure Playgrounds provide children in cities with much needed outdoor, freely chosen play opportunities that can be otherwise missing from modern lives. A trip to an adventure playground can be a magical experience where a child is free to take risks, imagine and act out all manner of scenarios! This can help them to make sense of the world around them and bring excitement to the possibilities of their futures.  

A key aspect of Adventure Playgrounds was that they were staffed by what today we call ‘Playworkers’ but back then were known as ‘Play Leaders’, who worked alongside children and the local community to develop the playgrounds. This concept, known as ‘self-build’, led to a variety of temporary play structures being developed on these sites. Although, in more recent years and perhaps in response to Health & Safety legislation these playgrounds have incorporated more fixed play equipment like that found on a regular play park, the self-build ethos has continued and was still active on sites in Nottingham such as Balloon Woods Adventure Playground as recently as the 2000s.  

As we begin 2021 in lockdown these playcentres and adventure playgrounds are closed like most of the country. In more ‘normal’ times however Forest Fields, St Anns, Phoenix on Broxtowe Estate and The Ridge in Bestwood are open for play. Play services in Nottingham like much of the country have not fared well during the austerity of the past decade with opening hours reduced and funding levels cut.  These projects grew from the community. Perhaps for them to thrive in the future greater involvement from parents and people within each community is needed. 

For further information including opening times contact: [email protected] 

What are adventure Playgrounds? 

Adventure Playgrounds differ from conventional Playgrounds in many ways. The main aspect is that traditionally they have no pre-made play structures, instead the environment is determined and shaped by the children that use the space. 

 In 1931 Danish Landscape Architect: Carl Theodor Sorensen first suggested the concept of Adventure Playgrounds, then known as Junk Playgrounds, after observing children playing in construction sites and junkyards.  

Fellow landscape architect Lady Allen of Hurtwood was inspired by the Danish concept after visiting Emdrup in Denmark and adopted it for British land, changing the name to Adventure Playgrounds. Marjory Allen was also a child welfare advocate and her work led to the establishment of many playgrounds in London and helped to spread the idea worldwide. 

 Seeing an opportunity for positive redevelopment of post-world war two landscapes, some Adventure Playgrounds were established in bombed sites. Other sites were in the same need of development such as wastelands and building sites.  

The ‘Junk Playground’ concept still exists in the UK with Playgrounds such as ‘The Land’ in Plas Madoc, near Wrexham, in Wales and The Triangle Adventure Playground, believed to be London’s oldest Adventure Playground in Oval amongst others are still open today. Adventure Playgrounds now exist world-wide in countries such as Argentina, Germany, the US, and Japan.