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Play for today

Thomas Watson reports on a Hampshire firm producing inspirational outdoor installations

Getting value for money from outdoor play areas can be difficult, especially when the latest installation fails to capture pupils'

imagination. One Hampshire company is addressing this concern by supplying schools with stunning wooden play objects, which not only provide pupils with endless enjoyment, but also give them the chance to play an integral part of the design process.

Hand Made Places has created more than 1,000 playgrounds since it was formed six years ago, most of these in trademark redwood. Everything is designed and built in-house by the team of 36, ensuring the standard build process is completed in 10 weeks.

Having said that, many of the Hand Made Places playgrounds are far from standard. As Robin Ashfield, managing director, explains, the company has had to conjure some unusual objects. "We've been asked to produce a timber octopus, and a school in Swanlea asked us to make a swan planter. After seeing a dragon in our catalogue, a Welsh headmaster asked us to create a dragon planter for his school."

Before the design is finalised, one of the staff, an ex-teacher, hosts workshops with pupils in the empty play area. Here, pupils are encouraged to discuss their ideas for the new area, many of which appear in the final design. What's more, pupils' drawings can often be used in the play area in the form of engravings, and many of the plants incorporated into the scheme are put there by pupils during planting workshops run by Hand Made Places.

Flexibility is key to Hand Made Places in many ways. Schools can roll out their playground build in phases, allowing them to spread the cost over a period of years. Recent builds include a special needs school project requiring access for both disabled and able-bodied pupils. Cited as one of Robin Ashfield's favourite builds, the finished result contains a range of wheelchair accessible platforms and levels.

Hand Made Places Stand PE630 www.handmadeplaces.co.uk

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