Frustrated that their children didn’t have accessible space to play and socialise, a working group led by parents of disabled children formed to campaign for an inclusive play space in Dumfries. Their belief was that no child should have to sit on the sidelines to watch others play.
With the dream of redeveloping a run-down local playpark, the group constituted as ‘Include Us’ (a SCIO) in 2018. Following community consultation and participatory workshops to determine the community’s desires for the new inclusive park, successful funding of around £225,000 from trusts, community fundraising and Dumfries and Galloway Council was raised. The dream became a plan for an inclusive play and recreation space, in central Dumfries.
The concept for Catherine Street Inclusive Park is “welcoming, inclusive and naturally playful.” A landscape architect was commissioned to develop the community wish-list to create a unique design with physical, social and sensory play in mind. Set within a conservation area, the design also needed to be in-keeping with the natural environment.
The vision was to ensure that every child or young person should be able to access the social experience of play and have choices about how they play. The design provides a mix of play areas to support a range of behaviour, activity and types of play. Taking an intergenerational approach, the new environment encourages positive interactions between people of all abilities and ages.
Paths and surfaces supported accessibility while offering play value to children, including those using wheelchairs or other mobility aids, with choices between easier/smoother routes and more playful ones (e.g. bumpy, curvy, textured).
Accessibility was improved by a gate linking The Usual Place café and Changing Places Toilet. New, flexible-use equipment was installed. Welcoming, playful railings and park signs were based on designs by local children.
The park offers imaginative, interactive play and learning opportunities; water pumped by hand cascades over the waterwheel and through channels and dams, a sand crane and chute enables sand to be transported to and from the unique accessible platform house and a roofed outdoor classroom offers opportunity for outdoor learning and storytelling.
Since opening in 2020, the park has been a hub of activity, supporting health and wellbeing. Described as a ‘community centre without walls’, the park encourages all age groups and abilities to share a space and spend recreation time side-by-side. This breaks down barriers, unites the community and encourages empathy and diversity awareness
Free activities such as Yoga, Tai Chi, playschemes, music or craft workshops, storytelling and outdoor education sessions run within the park. Young people with barriers to employment are supported to complete training in Horticulture, Park Maintenance and Enterprise within the site.
Catherine Street Inclusive Park was a national finalist in the Landscape Institute Awards for Excellence in Public Health and Wellbeing (2020), featured in national guidance resources such as “Free to Play: A guide to creating accessible and inclusive public play spaces” and is soon to be published as an inclusion case study by UNICEF.
Supporting StatementThe redevelopment of Catherine Street Park in to an accessible and inclusive intergenerational space has been enthusiastically enjoyed by people from across the whole of Dumfries and Galloway and beyond. Include Us have provided support and advice to other groups, local authorities and consultants across Scotland so that the success of Catherine Street Inclusive Park can be replicated elsewhere.
In its infancy, the park was the designed to meet the inclusive needs of children and families with disabilities. Since conception, the inclusive nature of the park has become much wider. Financial and social inclusion needs are met with the broad programme of free activities. Building on a close and supportive relationship with the local authority, partnerships have been made with carer groups, autism and disability groups, mental health services, employability services, social work, education and early years groups to support whole community connection. The result is a more cohesive community where those most marginalised are empowered to connect with others.
Soon after opening, COVID-19 arrived in Scotland and the challenges of living through a pandemic affected the community. The park became a key space for wellbeing. The outdoor, all-weather design, provided people with a safe and accessible space to benefit from time outdoors in nature. When many services, activities and venues closed for a considerable time, the park became a wellbeing hub with scavenger hunts and wellbeing resources posted on site for individual families and visitors to complete. Schools looked to the park as a safe space for outdoor learning options, free wifi provided to visitors ensured remote working and outdoor meetings within the park was an option.
Community events and activities such as a Halloween Spooktacular, Pride in the Park and Community Play and Picnic sessions supported reconnection post-lockdown. Flexible equipment provides open-ended opportunities, such as the wheelchair accessible trampoline that is also enjoyed by teens doing Parkour or on BMX’s. Plentiful seating, shelter and pathways welcome older people to the space. Neighbouring residents visit, share produce and support delivery of activities. Catherine Street Inclusive Park is an exemplar of breaking barriers by supporting connection, where people are not segregated by age or ability.
The sign on the gate reads “Please close the Gate: It helps us keep the magic inside”. The magic is a 93yr old lonely lady popping in on playdays for a cup of tea, children exploring their natural curiosity within a safe and imaginative setting, teens knocking on the office door to share their latest Tik Tok videos, people of different cultures playing Uno together, a 20-something year old man with complex needs laughing uncontrollably while he tries a swing for the first time in his life, a mum in a wheelchair playing in the sandpit with her child, an autistic young person leading on delivering an event and a neighbour dropping off some freshly baked scones…and so many more examples. A community connected in a naturally playful, welcoming and inclusive space.