Recently I had the opportunity to visit Cramond Primary School, on the outskirts of Edinburgh. I had heard rumours that the redevelopment of the school grounds were much bolder and more in line with those seen in other European countries such as Denmark, Norway and Germany. I was not disappointed. It was a refreshing change from the bland asphalt, playing field and token assault course which is generally the norm.
The redevelopment has happened almost entirely on an embankment that was previously a grassy slope. The area has been transformed into a range of different play spaces. The slide in the above photo is a double one, large enough for two children at a time to slide down. Below, the amphitheatre falls into a large grit pit – for playing and performing!
One of my favourite parts was the use of tyres as retaining walls. This is a common permaculture design approach and it was good to see this applied in a play context to provide variety and a different balancing and climbing experience.
The project, known as ‘Our PLACE’ was funded through the Active Places Legacy Fund. The £42,000 grant was matched by the school and parent council who did a tremendous amount of fundraising. I’m not sure if it is true, but apparently the local community also chipped in, so the school grounds are open access out-of-hours to local children. The total cost of the project was £104,000.
Whilst this is a considerable sum of money, my gut feeling was that this was probably quite a competitive price given the scale of the project. The whole feel of the playground has been transformed from a bland affair to an enticing area. As a child I would have loved it all.
According to the minutes of the City of Edinburgh Play Strategy Report meeting in December 2014, “the head teacher reports that the impact on play, pupil social, emotional and physical development within the school day and beyond is immeasurable. Staff no longer have to deal with playground squabbles, concentration levels are improved and collision injuries have been reduced. Staff use the outdoor space for learning and families use it after school and at weekends and as a community place.”
An Edinburgh-based architect company, HarrisonStevens designed the playspace. Their website is worth looking at as there’s some lovely photos of the children playing there. A key aim of the development was to create “a variety of challenging experiences to help develop the core strength, agility and balance of students of all ability ranges.” As well as Cramond Primary, they have also developed a further two playspaces in other Edinburgh Schools which also look interesting: Sciennes and Trinity Primary Schools.
The range of materials and the choices of movement up, down, over, around and jumping off and on and balancing and so on are huge. It is an embankment that has now become a playfest! There were some unusually approaches which I rather liked such as not fixing both ends of the ropes – as illustrated in the photo below.
It’s more than just a physical space. The sand, grit and other surfaces provide material for fantasy, small world and many other sorts of social play.
Much of the rest of the grounds have been left largely as they were. However I’m the wonderful willow tunnel path and fedge around the wildlife gardening area and pond looked quite new and provided an “ooh” from all the people who encountered it.
The pathway below provides an accessible point for buggies and wheelchair users. I also felt it was like a giant ball run and useful for a variety of science investigations.
Like with many playground developments, loose parts have been introduced. One main area for this was under some trees at the top of the embankment. Some materials were lying around, freely available for children to use out of hours. It looked like a much-loved area.
The Cramond Primary website provides a lovely photo album of the development process. You can also see how the loose parts are used all around the school grounds. I’m sure the children are delighted and making the most of their new space. Play on and prosper!