Play Haven is a ‘Godsend’

Many eggs, many baskets

When play came to the forest streets

Dukes Meadows: a model of sustainability


David and Rachel smile as Dee-jay, 4, flashes past pushing a bright red ride-on car. “He just loves it here,” says David, beaming. The family is at Somerford Grove Adventure Playground in Haringey for a Neighbourhood Play Havens session, which gives them exclusive access to the playground for an hour, before the public sessions begin.

With a serious lung condition which at times leaves him reliant on a wheelchair, David has until recently been shielding – and consequently the whole family largely confined to their one bedroom flat. Lack of space is not the only problem; they are also forced to cope with daily incidents of antisocial behavior and noise in their block, intensifying the claustrophobia and anxiety caused by months of confinement. David’s doctor has said that getting out and walking in the fresh air will improve his health, but the pandemic has made this near impossible.

            “It’s been a godsend for all of us, this place”

It has been difficult, David admits. He doesn’t like sitting around; he prefers to be productive: “I used to work as a roofer, and a chef. Being able to come here, it gets me out of the house and spending time with Dee-jay.” He is volunteering his time to help maintain the playground when his health and the circumstances allow.  Rachel agrees vigorously. “This has been a godsend for all of us, this place,” she says. “It’s helped David feel less anxious and I get some peace and quiet.”  Dee-jay flashes past again, enjoying the run of the space. Meanwhile David gets busy in the kitchen, preparing the family breakfast.

Haringey is one of five boroughs where London Play’s Neighbourhood Play Havens scheme is operating this summer, supporting adventure playgrounds to meet the needs of vulnerable children and families, or those who would otherwise have been excluded.  Because of Covid restrictions, Somerford Grove is only able to cater for groups of 15 children at a time; they must book two-hour sessions in advance. This is a significant departure from the open access, come-and-go-as-you-please ethos that prevails in normal times.

 “Now we have to turn kids away, and turn them out too – it doesn’t feel right”

Lead playworker Tam says that it has been a challenging adjustment for playworkers and children, and that there has been conflict outside the gates as local young people find themselves excluded when sessions are at capacity. “In the summer holidays we would usually see up to 100 children coming through the gates every day. And lots of them would stay all day. Now we have to turn kids away, and turn them out too. It doesn’t feel right.”


The Play Havens project is funding an additional three hours of opening for the playground each day, enabling them to help families like David and Rachel. “This place is really needed, especially after the tough time that some families have had during lockdown” says Tam. “The Play Havens funding means more children having fun and more families getting the support they need.”

NPH Somerford Grove case study
Built environment
A Freedom of Information request by the Association of Play Industries has revealed that local authorities across England are closing children’s playgrounds.
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Somerford Grove Adventure Playground was opened with great fanfare by the Haringey Play Association (HarPA) in the summer of 2005, with the aim of “putting play at the heart of the community.”.

Six years on and the playground is a indeed vibrant place which occupies a place at the heart of the community it serves. But times are tough and survival has meant sacrifice and compromise, forging some unlikely allegiances and some cunning money making plans. Read on to find out how HarPA’s ‘pick and mix’ approach to earning and saving money has helped the playground endure.

Lots of eggs in lots of baskets
Somerford Grove Adventure Playground was opened with great fanfare by the Haringey Play Association (HarPA) in the summer of 2005, with the aim of “putting play at the heart of the community.”.




Waltham Forest play street

Date: October 2015

London borough: Waltham Forest

Part of a series looking at the rise of play streets in London, borough by borough. London Play began working in Waltham Forest in 2008 and, seven years on, the borough’s streets are literally becoming transformed with play. Around a dozen play streets are up and running and the council is fielding a steady stream of applications from residents who are keen to launch new ones.

It is the only borough in London to date to have installed permanent play street signage, literally a sign of the council’s commitment – so no doubt the next seven years will bring many more.

This timeline charts London Play’s involvement in the Forest, working alongside residents and the council to inspire, stimulate and support change.

Download the pdf below to read more.

When play came to the Forest's streets
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Date: September 2012
London Borough: Hounslow

Capital investment in play facilities reached a peak during 2008-2010 with Playbuilder or Play pathfinder funding; or money from the Big Lottery Fund’s Playful Ideas strand.  Not all gave much thought to how the inspiring new playgrounds resulting would be sustained. But in Dukes Meadows, that was part of the project from the start.   

What is now the Dukes Meadows Trust had been an active friends group for many years when in 2008 it was awarded £250,000 from the Big Lottery Fund’s Playful Ideas strand to rebuild a derelict play area. The group was already experienced in dealing with such endeavours; in 2006 having delivered a new paddling pool with a central fountain, a sandpit and a refreshment kiosk, within landscaped surroundings aimed at 2-8 year olds and their families.

The brief for the new play area, for children aged 8-15, was informed by pupils from local schools. Their wishlist included high slides and bridges, trees to climb, hiding places, dens, places to jump and practise balancing skills, stepping stones, boulders. The result is a challenging and inspiring play space which embraces the park’s natural features including a dry riverbed creating a flexible play area that changes over seasons. The new playground opened to great fanfare in March 2010 – but its physical transformation is only one part of the story.

Acknowledging liabilities

Kathleen Healy, a DMT founder member, lives on an estate beside the park. A qualified banker, she understood the need to create assets: things that would generate income, as well as raising funds for capital improvements. “The playgrounds are hugely valuable and something we are proud to have created,” she says. “But recognising that they are, in a financial sense, liabilities was key to understanding the need to create enterprises to generate revenue to pay for their maintenance and replacement over time.”

This philosophy has guided the group almost from its inception. In 2000 it established a Farmers Market, which runs weekly and now grosses over £20,000 per annum in rent from stallholders. These funds contributed to the restoration of a semi-derelict pavilion, which has been converted into 14 rentable artists’ studios which provide DMT with a yearly income of £80,000.These funds not only help pay for maintenance and repair of the play areas, but also nature study classes for children from the estates, free family activities in the summer, and help employ a ranger to recruit and involve volunteers and continue to engage the community.

Smart concessions

Hounslow council agreed to grant DMT a 25-year lease on the play areas once funding was secured. DMT shares responsibility for maintenance of the adventure play area with the council, but is solely responsible for maintaining the water play area.  This was made affordable by a smart lease on the kiosk beside it, built as part of the project. Its operators are trained and responsible for checking and maintaining the water quality in the pool and the pool plant – saving the cost of employing an attendant, which would have made the facility unviable.

Kathleen explains that connecting various strands of the local community to work together makes the project sustainable. “The leadership from young people and of the community was a key factor. It promoted local ownership of it and reduced problems of vandalism. The involvement of the Croft Centre helped ensure that the play area meets the needs of children of different abilities. Now children come to Duke Meadows to meet and play together, fostering greater understanding and acceptance. Some children involved with the playground now work in the Farmers Market.”

Dukes Meadows
Children and young people
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Children and young people
The annual report from the Children's Society finds that 15-year olds in the UK are among the saddest and least satisfied with their lives in Europe.