Jo Rawson, Volunteering and Community Involvement Manager, National Trust, Hardwick, shares an inspiring tale of community and play...
As a Wildlife Watch Leader it’s always wonderful to see how much enjoyment young people get from the sessions we plan for them. Whether its bird ringing, bat walking, falconry or fire lighting; it’s fantastic to see them having so much fun in nature. What I absolutely love though is those sessions that enable children and young people to use their creativity. Sessions we don’t really need to plan because it’s all over to the young people to lead the way. Sessions where children get to take ownership and really get involved in helping their special place become even more special for people and wildlife.
Sunday was one of those sessions. Around 8 ½ years ago I created my first play trail down near one of the ponds at Hardwick with a group of local young people. The project was funded through a scheme called Youth Opportunities Unlimited, and the young people were involved in designing the simple balance trail out of wood and tyres etc. Almost a decade later, we have developed Hardwick’s outdoor play offer into something really awesome with play embedded across the whole property and many different groups of young people have been involved in making it this way.
Sadly the original balance trail had seen better days, but all was not lost as Sheffield National Trust Association had given us a generous donation to further develop our play offer at Hardwick. We spent some of this funding on materials to replace the play trail down near Miller’s Pond. Timescales were tight to get the funding spent before the end of the financial year so instead of working with the children first to design the new play trail, then ordering materials accordingly, we thought we’d try something different.
Play Trail Design
Hardwick’s Wildlife Watch group met as normal on Sunday morning, and I spent a short time explaining the mission for the day. I asked the children what they loved most about the old balancing trail and the Woodland Play Trail up near the Hall…turns out they loved pretty much everything! We went outside to where one of our Rangers had pulled up a trailer filled to the brim with different sized timber, tyres and tools. The children had a good look at the materials available to them, then we took a walk down to the site of the play trail. The children couldn’t believe how big the space looked without the old features there and they enjoyed some free play time down there while they came up with ideas. We explained that whatever they came up with our Youth Rangers and Rangers would be building it so it needed to be simple and easy to construct. With that in mind, they went back to the Park Centre and got out the felt pens. Each group designed at least one ‘feature’ of the new play trail (eg. climbing feature) and one ‘pathway’ (eg. stepping logs). All their designs were then collated and the children chose which ones to use in the final plan. They laid their designs out on a map of the site as they wanted them to be built. We ended up with some really fantastic designs, many of which were inspired by nature – a butterfly balance made from logs, a snake made from tyre hurdles with a giant tractor tyre for its head, a tree of logs to walk along, den building, stepping logs and a log pile climbing feature.
Our Youth Ranger group came in that afternoon and worked extremely hard building, digging and tampering in logs and tyres to the Wildlife Watch group’s specifications. Our Ranger’s team will finish it off next week, and I know our family visitors will absolutely love it. The really wonderful thing is that the children and young people of our Wildlife Watch and Youth Ranger groups have contributed to the future of Hardwick, designing and building a play offer that we will all be proud of for many years to come, a play offer which thousands of children will enjoy, and most of all – a play offer inspired by nature.
Youth Rangers and Play Trail Build