It’s now a week into the school holidays and many children and young people will be accessing a range of local activities. When people remember their school days, their best memories are usually around the long summer days of the holidays, playing outside with friends, often out with immediate adult supervision. Whilst sunshine might seem like a distant memory this summer, many of today’s children are also less likely to have access to the same range of play experiences that their parents will remember being part of.
Whenever images of the old Venchie playgrounds are publicised, they generate comment and stories as people remember playing there. From the early days of Wester Hailes there was a recognition that local children, particularly those living in the high rises needed access to somewhere where there was adventurous play with sand, water, building materials and climbable structures. The playgrounds were altered on a regular basis in response to children’s comments and suggestions. In 1979 in a story on support for the Venchie, the Sentinel commented
The problems of Wester Hailes children should concern all of us who live here, not just their parents. We should all share in creating a community in which they will mature happily and healthily.
The Venchies provoked a mixed response from parents, but were extremely popular with children. Unfortunately, the playgrounds’ existence were relatively short lived. In 1989, the Sentinel reported on the dismantling of the original Venchie. Lack of funds had made it impossible to maintain its upkeep and it had become unsafe. The playground had survived previous near disasters including a fire. You can read the full story here.
The Venchies were in many ways ahead of their times. There is perhaps now a greater understanding that children need to experience play with an element of risk and challenge, play that is unstructured, that makes use of natural elements, enables children of different ages to play together, with play areas that are designed in consultation with local children and the wider community. An extensive report by Play England demonstrates the value of this type of play and details examples of good practice, including several playgrounds in Stirling. Pictures of the Venchie playgrounds would not have looked out of place!
Edinburgh is currently engaged in improving its play area facilities and has produced a Play Action Plan for the next five years. The plan aims to increase the number of households that meet the Play Access Standard which recommends that every house and flat in the city should have access to a play space of good value within 800m walking distance, of very good value within 1,200m walking distance and of excellent play value within 2,000m walking distance. It also upholds the importance of natural materials, free play and the value of risk. And it states that
The views, opinions and experience of children and young people should be central to the development of play policies and especially the planning and design of the environments in which they play.
Whilst the era of the Venchies is now long gone, perhaps we’ll see more of their successors both here and in other parts of the city.