Clearburn Natural Play and Picnic Area is a Big Lottery and Clyde & Avon Valley Landscape Partnership funded project which has resulted in a beautiful natural play space in the heart of New Lanark World Heritage Site. The space was designed, constructed and interpreted in collaboration with the local community and school pupils to allow natural play for all ages, a chance to explore the surrounding area and the opportunity to relax and enjoy the beauty of New Lanark. From the outset, our aim was for the space to be something that the local community really wanted and would enjoy using, so a series of consultation events were held. These allowed over 80 volunteers (locals, visitors and school pupils) to vote for the features they wanted to see included, tell us about what playing, relaxing and exploring meant to them and draw pictures of how they would like the area to look. The consultation responses were passed to our designer who pulled them together to create a multi-purpose space for play and picnicking, which fits perfectly into the surrounding landscape. The design includes living willow features, a bog garden, wild-flower and native planting, a tree-house and natural play equipment, a sensory path, human sundial and nature trail as well as picnic facilities, all linked together by a meandering board-walk. We then returned to the school groups and they named the different areas of the site as they would appear on the nature trail. The volunteers were also involved in the construction of the site, taking part in a series of workshops led by Clydesdale Community Initiatives. The workshops included cutting, preparing, planting and weaving willow to create living willow structures, including a giant storytelling dome, a tunnel and a hazel fence. Our school groups got involved too, helping to create a living willow arbour, a sensory path and a giant bug hotel. The arbour required them to work closely as a group to weave and tie the willow and all of the material for the sensory path was collected, dug-up, chopped and fitted entirely by the pupils. Following completion of these structures, volunteers returned to plant fruit trees, bog plants, herbs and seed areas with wild-flowers, all native to the area. These will add to the sensory aspect of the area, which has been designed to be enjoyed by all users, whether they have a physical or sensory impairment. The nature trail was designed almost entirely by the school groups, with support from OStreet Graphic Designers. Workshops allowed the pupils to select the format and material for the trail leaflet and also select the animals, questions and answers which would feature. Hand printing allowed the pupils to explore how animal prints are made and continuous line drawing gave them an insight into how their drawings would be laser etched into wood. The pupil’s facts and drawings were then incorporated into the trail leaflet as well as being laser etched into the trail map and answer posts.
New Lanark Trust has nominated this project as we feel it is not only appropriate to the site but also embodies community participation, engagement and benefit. Through involving the community in all stages of the project, from development and design through to construction and the launch, we have created a far more innovative space than would have been developed without their involvement. The ideas of ‘natural play’ e.g. exploring, climbing, hiding & performing, came directly from the school pupils and helped to demonstrate that plastic swings and roundabouts aren’t always necessary for enjoyable play. The volunteers also gained a sense of ownership and pride in the space and this is evident in the number of users of the space in only 4 months. All of our volunteers learned new skills and developed their ability to work as part of a team and some have expressed an interest in continuing to volunteer with the upkeep of the space. The space itself has been designed to fit into the surrounding landscape of the New Lanark Woodlands and the Falls of Clyde. Natural materials have been utilised as far as possible and the features will change with the seasons and weather with age. With no barriers and boundaries, as well as features hidden in the edge of the woodlands, the space acts as a gateway for further exploration of the area, encouraging users to learn more about their surroundings. All of the planting is native to the area, helping to improve the biodiversity of the site and all of the animals featured in the trail can be found across the site. The space on which Clearburn was developed has historically been used for play and nature exploration, as far back as Robert Owen’s time. Owen would instruct his teachers to take the children outside to learn about nature and believed that fresh air and a pleasant environment were essential for happy and healthy communities. Clearburn is therefore not only enhancing the natural beauty of New Lanark but also helping to preserve and promote the ideals which helped to make it famous. One of the main challenges of the project was working with 4 different contractors (designer, site contractor, workshop enablers and graphic designers) at the same time, while ensuring that the community and school input was always the most important factor of their work. This was overcome through regular project meetings and having the contractors work directly with the community and school groups, rather than as a 3rd party with facilitation from New Lanark. The contractors were therefore able to take ideas directly into consideration and adapt workshops as they were running to suit the group and ideas generated e.g. one school group suggesting that they gather herbs from a disused herb garden on site to plant in the sensory path. The project has been an excellent introduction into this level of community involvement for New Lanark, and we hope to have similar involvement in future projects. It has opened up potential for a range of new learning workshops including outdoor skills, storytelling and nature exploration and has attracted an entirely new audience to the village. A short film of the project can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uJIZkZz0GyM