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A New Park For Barking Riverside

17 April 2015

We’ve been back in Barking over the summer to get local parents and children involved in designing a new play area for Barking Riverside.  This has been testimony to how important it is to involve people in the design process; the existing play provision hasn’t been horrendous but people didn’t like it because it had just been imposed on them and it wasn’t what people thought of as ‘good play’.

We’re used to walking into tricky situations but this was particularly difficult because people didn’t believe that the next playground could be any better. Luckily for us we already had some good relationships in the area from our project last year so we could ask some friendly faces to give us the lowdown.

We started with an informal walkabout of the existing spaces and used our specially-designed photo frames to capture what was working and wasn’t working. This also allowed us to establish the difference in perception between parents and children. Some of the wilder planting areas disliked by parents were considered to be great places for hide and seek for children, so we needed to find a way of communicating what was joyful and playful about these types of spaces.

Once we got to grips with the issues and aspirations for a new playspace we wanted to take people on a study trip to see some different types of spaces and equipment. We hired a bus and took 20 parents and 27 children ages 6 months to 15 years for a day of visiting interesting places. We used our photo frames once again and chalkboards to focus people on what they would want to borrow for their ideal park.

With all this food for thought we could hold a much more structured workshop to prioritise ideas, draw and model make things on our wish list.  Crucially we had representatives there from the planning department and the developers to hear people’s thoughts on how to apportion the budget. This was very eye opening for everybody and being transparent about what impact different choices would have on the budget led to a very sensible and enlightening conversation.

The final design was costed and modeled so that it could be shared with the wider community – but the process of decision-making had been so strong that reactions have been very positive. Although people would like more things there is a general consensus that this is a park that meets the needs of local people.