The hard work pays off for Watlington Recreation Ground

Watlington Recreation Ground

We recently installed a playground at Watlington Recreation Ground in Oxfordshire. Our client has written a case study on her experience right through from public consultation to project completion. Read on for hints and tips on creating your perfect play area.


When we embarked on this project, we really had little idea as to how to go about it, and it has proved to be a long, sometimes painful, but hugely rewarding journey. Initiated in March 2007 and completed June 2009, it gives an idea of the timescales involved. After discussing likely project costs (the initial budget we considered was £35k), we took advice from SODC Grants Department; Veronica Taylor was extremely helpful. She advised that a consultation with the people of Watlington would be key to successful bids for funding, and not to work to a budget at this stage, but to assess what was needed and to work back from this point. We also consulted regularly with Roger Davis (ORCC/RoSPA) from this early stage and his advice on our scheme has been invaluable and has proven to be a major contribution to its success.

The consultation exercise

In November 2007 we consulted with four different groups in Watlington: the General Public, Watlington Primary School, The Icknield Community College and Watlington Youth Club. At each consultation we put up 10 or so A1 sized panels, each covered with pasted-on images of various types of play equipment cut from brochures. Equipment was arranged in age groups, and we included equipment for older teenagers and adults. At each consultation, we also included a “message board”, and these were well used too.Each person was given 5 small green dot-stickers to vote “for” equipment, and 2 red dot stickers to vote “against”. At the end of each consultation the boards were carefully photographed and the stickers removed so that the results of one did not influence the next.

The results were very interesting, and it was clear at a glance which pieces were most popular to a particular group of consultees. There were a few surprises too – for instance at the Youth Club consultation, a popular vote was for a roundabout pasted on a board of equipment for pre-school children. We also realised we had omitted to represent some key items on the pasted up panels when the primary school children filled a message board with drawings of zip-wires. As a direct result of this there is one in the completed scheme. The group we found hardest to engage and consult with was the teenage group.We then created a Watlington Recreation Ground Advisory Group, made up of 3 parish councillors, 4 teenagers of mixed ages, and 3 parents of younger children, and this group carefully looked at the consultation records and put together a wish list of equipment.

Tendering the worksIn December 2007 we went out to tender with three play equipment companies. We gave them our proposed budget figure (by then around £80k) and the wish list and asked for the most imaginative scheme that would satisfy both. Playdale Playgrounds was the one which most closely followed our brief and included the most equipment from our wish list, although it did exceed our budget! However, when we took advice from SODC’s Grants Officer Jayne Bolton, it was that Watlington was so in need of a good recreation ground that we should go with the best scheme. By this time, the play equipment element was to cost £112k. Our architect took further advice from Roger Davis and designed the layout of the scheme around this play equipment and incorporated other aspects of landscaping including mounds for additional play value, fencing and new paths, and then compiled drawings and specifications for an Enabling Works Contract and we put this out to tender in March 2008.The winning tender was a figure of a further £47k, and we also tendered for a Contract Administrator. Adding in a 10% contingency, the total anticipated project cost was £178k.

Applications for funding

We very carefully put together a comprehensive set of documents for a bid to SODC’s Community Investment Fund (CIF) Major Grants Allocation in April 2008. These documents included one which covered the background to the scheme; the scope and brief for the project together with a list of aims and priorities, and information and photographs about the site. The second document recorded the consultation exercise including photo-montages of panels andmessage boards from each of the four consultations, including the conclusions of the Advisory Group, and the third document included supplementary information; tender returns and fee proposals, WPC accounts, letter from the planning department, and letters of complaint about the existing recreation ground. These comprehensive application documents improved our chances of success in obtaining funding; compiling these took approximately 80-100 manhours!We applied for a 60% grant from SODC and this was granted in July 2008.

Winning our first grant made this project a reality, and we then set about applying to other bodies. Having compiled the documents for SODC, we were able to modify these to suit subsequent applications, although they were still time consuming as each body required a different set of information and a different format for submission. We applied for £10k from TOE (Trust for Oxfordshire’s Environment) and they advised us to re-apply for £15, which was great! Our Third Party funding for this came from a local charity the Watlington Support Fund. The ORCC was enormously helpful and their Philip Newbould advised us to apply for funding from COMMA, and our application for the maximum £20k was made via ORCC. We also applied to the OCC Youth Capital Fund for a grant specifically for our Zip Wire (£8k). Other funds we applied to were not forthcoming; We made two applications for £10k from BLF Awards for All. The first was turned down, we were told, because of too many applications,and we were encouraged to apply again. However, our second application was refused as being ineligible because it was a land improvement scheme. It would have been helpful to have been told this when we consulted with them before making our first application.

One aspect of the funding which became difficult was that one of our sources of funding (COMMA) had a time constraint, and the project had to be completed before the end of June 2009 for us to be able to claim it. However, because we were refused funding from Awards for All, there was a shortfall in funding which had to be made up with additional funds from WPC in order to start the work and complete on time.

Local fundraising

A group was formed comprising both parish councillors and local residents specifically with the task of raising funds locally. They approached local businesses for sponsorship, raised funds through a prize raffle and ran two fundraising events. A local benefactor also made a large personal donation. In total they raised £9k in four months.

Construction period

Once the works were on site, we had to deal with vandalism and had to spend a substantial amount of our contingency budget on enhanced security for the site. Also, because of the time of year that the works were carried out (April-June) some of the turf died and may need remedial work during autumn 2009. We kept the new play area closed to the public for four weeks beyond the actual practical completion date in order to allow the grass to recover as much as possible.

Project completion

The new ground was opened to the public in mid June 2009, and the buzz could be felt throughout Watlington. There has been huge interest in the project from all sectors of the community and the area has been heaving with people since it was opened. On one afternoon after school, 70 children and teenagers were counted within the play area. This has been immensely satisfying, and has made all of the blood, sweat and tears required to achieve it worthwhile !!

Original aims of the Watlington project:

  • To regenerate the whole recreation ground and to create a vibrant, much loved and well used facility for the community.
  • For the new play area to form the new focus of the recreation ground and integrate the different areas arranged around it, encouraging better use of the good facilities we already had in this area including the skate bowl, skate track and half-pipe.

The scheme incorportates:

  • Replacement of the existing old play equipment with a modern, safe and imaginatively designed play area which is re-located in a more appropriate location within the recreation ground.
  • A new Fitness Trail, arranged in locations around the perimeter of the recreation ground, to provide a circuit route for runners and fitness training, and to promote better use of the whole of the recreation ground.
  • New landscaping including grassed mounds and a revised path layout to generate better usage of the space.
  • New goals for the “kick-about” football pitch, which has also been re-located in the scheme.
  • New screen to one end of the basket-ball court.

The new scheme has been designed to:

  • Encourage use of the area and equipment by all, including users of all abilities
  • To create a greater sense of community.
  • To encourage out-door, physical activity and exercise, therefore promoting a healthy lifestyle
  • To extend the hours the area is used, thus creating better security and reducing antisocial behaviour.

 Key advice:

  • Make contact with key people as early as possible; these are organisations that you hope will be your major funders, advisors such as Roger Davis, and specialist contractors.
  • Get your consultation right, record it properly, and use the results to design the scheme.
  • Don’t underestimate the amount of time it takes to compile a good funding application.
  • Be realistic about the cost of the project, and do it properly. This is your one chance to get it right.
  • Be patient, a project like this takes a great deal of time and effort to achieve.
  • Don’t give up – if you think the project is worthwhile, it probably is and you’ll get there in the end.


Related articles

The Ultimate Guide to Outdoor Classrooms
Wednesday, 20th March 2024

In the ever-evolving landscape of education, schools are constantly seeking innovative ways to enhance the outdoor learning experience for students. One approach gaining popularity is the concept of taking lessons outdoors and the outdoor classrooms. What is an outdoor classroom? An outdoor classroom provides primary schools and nurseries with practical, covered spaces for outdoor learning, […]

Enhance your Adventure Trail and encourage more active play!
Thursday, 8th February 2018

Did you know that there are accessories available to enhance your Adventure Trail? No matter what size your trail is, you can inject extra fun and encourage competitive spirit with the Interactive Panel & Trail Timer. We designed a range of unique activities to provide a different dimension to your Adventure Trail. As well as […]

Weymouth Sea Life Centre, Dorset
Wednesday, 7th June 2017

Playdale Playgrounds were delighted to be awarded the contract to design, build and install the brand new ‘Caribbean Cove Adventure Playground’ at Merlin Entertainments’ Sea Life Centre in Weymouth, Dorset. It is already proving to be a superb addition to an already hugely popular visitor attraction. Watch the video above to see the play area […]