Client: Hallfield Primary School-Westminster London
Landscape Design and Construction: Bartholomew Landscaping
Award: Winner of a British Association of Landscape Industries award for Community and Schools Development
The starting point
We were approached by Westminster Council to look at the reception playground at Hallfield Primary School that was being very underused. When we visited the site it became very clear why this was; the playground had a number of off the peg pieces of equipment randomly spread across a sloping area that made it very difficult for the children to use. In fact the school decided that it was so unsafe that they prevented children’s access to this part of the playground completely, restricting them to a small level area outside the classrooms. The school had a planning application in to level the site by constructing a large retaining wall close to the boundary creating a single level area and relocating the existing play equipment. This involved quite major engineering works and underpinning of the schools storage building and complex planning issues regarding adjacent trees.
Bartholomew Landscaping suggested that a much better solution would be to take advantage of the sloping site, resulting in less material being removed, making more of the space useable and keeping excavations away from trees and buildings. With this in mind we prepared a brief with initial sketch design and 3D model that were presented in the form of a fly through movie that was shown to the school; they were delighted with the ideas. We then had to prepare a detailed planning application because of the proximity to the trees and the fact that the main part of the school building is grade 2 listed. Once this was approved work started on the playground a few weeks later.
Bartholomew Landscaping carefully demolished the existing playground, relocated an existing tree and fenced off the areas of construction during the works so that the school could maintain access across the site safely and operate normally at all times. The majority of the works with the exception of the demolitions were undertaken during term time it was felt that it was important that the children could see the work in progress and understand what is involved in building things. The children were able to watch progress from the safety of their class rooms and from behind transparent fencing. Bartholomew landscaping employees were introduced to the pupils and talked to them about the project.
Throughout the playground we introduced paving in brick, cobbles, natural stone, coloured safety surfacing and resin bound gravel in contrasting colours. The different textures provide immediate interest. Paths were laid to meander throughout the playground linking the various spaces and so encourage flowing movement and imaginative play. Using these techniques to define key areas we were able to create a range of spaces for both active play and quieter areas for social interaction and study.
The main feature of the playground is a centrally located shelter / outdoor class room with a cave under and tunnels linked to a lookout dome positioned within the slope and a faux grass covered mound using waist material from the excavations. Winding paths gently slope up to the back of the playground and a large slide leads back down from the shelter to the lower level and the main playground.
A stepped amphitheatre was positioned on one side of the playground cut into the slope. Raised planting beds with planting and digging space with a sand pit were located at low level – encouraging children interact with their environment. The underground cave was linked to the main playground via new talking tubes and some of the best pieces of old play equipment were positioned to add to the challenging interest and potential activities.