The adventure playground where safety is the priority

Published date: 17 February 2014 |
Published by: Rhian Waller 
Read more articles by Rhian Waller  Email reporter


A LITTLE context – I am wearing a long black skirt and heels.

I am meeting Claire Griffiths, Adventure Playground project manager for the Plas Madoc junk playground known as “The Land”.

The playground, run by the Association of Voluntary Organisations Wrexham (AVOW), has just been selected as one of the top 10 open Adventure Playgrounds in the UK by the Sport and Recreation Alliance.

It opened on February 17 last year so today marks its first anniversary.

I am expecting a chat, a sitdown and a cup of tea.

Instead I am led into a walled yard, where I am greeted by a fast-moving missile called Christian, who shouts: “News paper, paper, paper, paper!”

The seven-year-old, a Plas Madoc native and a whirl of energy, grabs my hand and pulls me across the yard, which is a chaotic, muddy space bisected by a stream, and up to a house up a tree, which he scales like a monkey.

“Are you coming up?” he asks from his perch. I look at impractical shoes and skirt – hardly practical  attire.

“Yeah, ok,” I say, and I clamber up with the help of a rope.

We are joined by flame-haired Angel Hewitt, eight, who also lives on the estate.

“This is the first time I’ll be in the paper,” she said, as our photographer Steve Rawlins takes a few photographs of me trying to interview two pre-teens while crouching in a tree house.

“It’s not mine,” said Christian Alavarta-Hughes, who helpfully spells his name. “I’ve been in –” he consults his fingers. “Ten times before. No. Two times. No, maybe just once. How old are you?”


Angel screws up her nose, and then her face lights up.

“You’re 21,” she said.

“Not quite,” I said, “but I like that you said that.”

Our photographer is less pleased when they guess his age at 96.

Over the next half-hour, pint-sized Angel takes me on a tour of the den, a sprawling complex built from crates and MDF, complete with trapdoors, crawl spaces and a sofa.

The sofa is so tightly wedged, the structure must have been constructed  around it.

We also sit in a boat, which she rocks from side to side so we can pretend it is a choppy sea.

“When’s your birthday? Mine is in April. That’s next week. I might do karaoke for it,” said Angel, with all the deadpan flair of the practised storyteller.

She wasn’t joking about the singing though, and she bursts into a rendition of a Rihanna hit.

By this time it is drizzling, so I retreat into the office space with project manager Claire.

She said: “It was recognised that the children here needed more than just something for the holidays.

“We started offering street playgroups and in 2012 we started fundraising to set the centre up.

“We received confirmation and launched it in January. It officially opened on February 17.”

The playground has changed a lot in a year. It has also provided a blueprint for similar projects in the US and is due to feature in a documentary.

At first glance some visitors are less impressed.

Claire said: “I do find myself spending the first five minutes apologising to people when they come in because it’s muddy and it looks a bit like a dump.

“But it’s controlled. The children will get muddy and they might get splinters (although we’ve only had one case in a year) and they’ll jump off things. That’s fine.

“We do a site check every day and everything we build is appraised in terms of the value the different features provide and the safety issues, and if the dangers outweigh the benefits, then of course we won’t take that route.

“It’s becoming widely recognised that children will take risks and push boundaries. That’s all part of growing up. If they can’t learn in this way, if they are constantly being told to stop this or not do that or stay away from the mud, how will they ever learn to evaluate risk in later life?”

One of the most satisfying things, said Claire, is seeing a child who was scared of heights scale a “castle” made of crates for the first time.

She added: “There was this little girl who watched all the other children jump off.

Every day she’d get closer to the edge but she just couldn’t bring herself to do it.

“I’d be there, willing her to make the leap – but you don’t get involved. You don’t try to push them to do anything, that’s not what play is about.

“Because she didn’t feel under any pressure, she eventually made that decision herself.

“She jumped, and the look on her face when she landed was amazing.”

Parents like the place too. Some of them stay to play, even after their children have become bored.

Helen Richards, 50, mother to Cai, said it was a “lovely” place for her pre-teen son and that he was sometimes joined by older brother Gethin, 13.

She said: “I’m quite happy he’s safe here. The staff look after him. I feel better that he’s here messing about.

“It’s surprising what you can make with this stuff.”

The children own The Land.

They chalk pictures and names over it although the constructons are put in place by staff like Luke Sutton, from Wrexham, who is working towards his level three NVQ in childcare.

Luke, who was tending a fire pit, said: “It’s not just the dens. It’s other stuff. It’s not like a fixed adventure playground.

“We make constant modifications to keep the kids interested.

“We’ll listen to what they say and watch how they play.

“Sometimes they’ll help or we’ll change things without them knowing so when they come in it’s a surprise.

“You have to think in terms of scale. It’s for children, so it’s children-sized.”

Having navigated the rat-run of the current layout, I sympathise with any parent who has to extract their reluctant-to-leave-offspring at the end of a play session.

It’s worth it, to see children reclaim – in a safe way – some of the wildness that has been lost as the countryside has been swallowed up, public playgrounds have been sanitised and parents have become increasingly worried about the intentions of strangers.

Back in the office and Angel bursts through the door, brandishing a plastic gun.

Claire and I stick our hands up in mock horror.

Angel keeps a bead on us as she sidles over to the desk, snatches up a packet of crackers, pushes one into my mouth and retreats, cackling.

“I think we just got held up,” I say, through a shower of crumbs.

The interview is over, but the children play on.

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  1. Posted by: a cahill at 12:21 on 17 February 2014 Report

    Having once been aske by our own kid if I knew about the Victorian's use of potties instead of toilets because I was alive then I can understand the Photographers estimated age....but its good to see kids playing their own invented game as we did in the 60's...we climbed trees rolled around in the field and got covered in muck and nobody e wanted to be the Injun and our 20 a side football teams were chock a block full of Bobby Charltons

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