Biting Back at the Bad Reputation of Timber!
Timber playgrounds have been the focus of attention, but for all the wrong reasons.
Who remembers the golden years of Playbuilder and Play pathfinder 2008-2010 where playscapes were cash rich and the shackles of the KFC (Kit Fence Carpet, not to be mistaken for the fast food chain!) were cast aside leaving the dark days of formulaic, often steel and unimaginative design, behind to make way for intriguing landscaped spaces.
However, it seems the playgrounds of this era are beginning to pose a real problem for local authorities, with some billing them as ‘ticking timebombs’. Why?
In the heyday of playbuilder there was a rush for local authorities to secure sites for new or renovated playspaces to ensure they didn’t lose the funding opportunity. The play industry delivered, but under real pressure, to design, manufacture and install £235million worth of playgrounds in just under three years.
This volume was the highest ever seen in the industry resulting in the appearance of inferior products and installation teams, particularly in the construct of timber play equipment. Cheap solutions were provided with no real investment on designs that protected local authorities from long term revenue drains. Essentially those procuring natural timber playgrounds hadn’t caught up with the diversity of timber available on the market and all the qualities to look out for to ensure they had the best solutions. This is understandable as a nation delivering predominantly steel play constructions, the world of natural play was new to many.
Example of poor quality timber and installation at The Ripple playground
However as a result there are several poor sub standard spaces and products that haven’t made it past five or six years in the ground, when in fact a quality natural play space with the right timber products can and should last for a minimum of 15 years.
So we are here to set the record straight!Just like steel there are different qualities of timber and to judge all timber playgrounds the same is not an accurate reflection of what can be delivered
The Summer of 2018 will be one to remember as a gloriously hot year and we took the opportunity to go on a road trip to visit several timber playgrounds that have been in the ground for at least six years and weathering extreme coastal conditions to see the result.
The Level, PiPA inclusive play space in Brighton installed 2012
A beautifully designed area by Land Use Consultants and really highlights the benefits of engaging Landscape Architects in the design of standout play spaces. This is a destination area which features everything natural play represents, variety of textures, materials, surfaces and planting. Newly installed it looked fantastic, and now six years later it looks even better, with established planting, timbers that are as robust as ever but looking more beautiful from weathering the years. The parts that have needed replacing have been the elements that provide dynamic play, which would be true for play equipment manufactured in steel.
Preston Park, Brighton installed 2010
A Bespoke unit created to encourage challenge and fit to an existing slope. The first case of wear and maintenance work was reported 7 years after installation to a segment of the wobbly bridge, a dynamic element with moving parts. There have been no issues reported on any timbers or structural elements of this scheme.
Waterwise Gardens, Worthing installed 2010
One of our most challenging installations, this play area is installed ON the shingle beach, weathering every weather extreme that can be thrown at it! This is a site with predominantly robinia timber and has had zero after sales on the robinia elements, again the elements that have required maintenance have been on moving parts that you would expect on any piece of well-used equipment regardless if it is steel or timber.
There will always be a choice on the market from the low price cheap solutions to the high end, quality driven crafted timber pieces. We are merely presenting the simple fact that you really do get what you pay for. A cheap solution may be the right thing for a small nursery or a site with low foot fall but will this withstand larger public spaces?
Why rule out timber as an option if that is the right aesthetic and feel for your site? A country park is much better suited to a timber solution but if revenue costs and anti-social behaviour is a problem at the location then there is a case for exploring the providers of quality timber products. Jupiter Play is proud of our partnership with FHS who have been creating robinia timber play equipment (other timbers also available) for over 30 years. They have refined the product they offer to ensure it is of the highest quality. Yes we have higher up-front costs, but take any of these case studies and you will find they have lower ongoing revenue costs then a cheaper alternative AND they are close to celebrating a decade of play.