Fight for the right to play

Mother joins call for inclusive park fund

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A disabled child’s mother who successfully fought for a new swing for wheelchair users in a Scunthorpe park is promoting a campaign by the equality charity Scope for government investment in a multi-million-pound inclusive playgrounds fund.

Scope believes disabled children are being denied fun and friendship at playgrounds because they are not designed for them.

Funding shortages

Two years ago, North Lincolnshire Council installed a wheelchair access swing suitable for all ages in Somervell Road play park, Scunthorpe. Lorna Fillingham, whose 12-year-old daughter Emily-May is a wheelchair user, had worked closely with the council on the installation because play opportunities were not available for her.

“I was delighted with the new swing,” said Fillingham. “But most playgrounds have no accessibility or equipment suitable to allow disabled children to play alongside their friends.”

There is no national register of playgrounds or types of play equipment or accessibility. However, even where parks have recently been renovated, facilities for disabled children are often not upgraded.

The Equality Act 2010 says disabled people have the right to “reasonable adjustments” to make services accessible to them. But that depends on cost, practicality, effectiveness, disruption and health and safety.

Local authorities are required to take reasonable measures to make a play area as suitable for disabled children as possible. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child also states that all children have the right to play. But local authorities have faced acute funding shortages for more than a decade.

In Ipswich, councillor Sam Murray has launched a campaign as none of the recently installed equipment in the town’s play parks has included a swing for children with moving disabilities.

The situation is better in Barnsley, where new facilities at Penny Pie Park include an inclusive wheelchair roundabout and spring as well as an inclusive ball court with wheelchair access.

Long-term impact

Robert Frost, Barnsley Council cabinet member for regeneration and culture, said: “The improved facilities are inclusive in a variety of ways. We’ve considered physical and sensory inclusion – from access to the play equipment to the colours of the kit. We’ve installed equipment that gives opportunities for children of all abilities to play and socialise with their friends.”

Research by Scope found that half of families with disabled children face accessibility problems with their local playground and one in 10 parents of disabled children said their child got hurt using inaccessible equipment.

Fillingham believes “play parks allow all children to learn social rules on turn taking, about making friendships, sticking to the rules and taking risks in a safe way”.

She added: “My daughter is missing out now and there is a long-term impact because it means that disabled children are not engaged with other children who are the future architects, policy makers and planners, who may then fail to take into account the needs of disabled people of all ages.

“Too many local authorities are still not taking disabled children into account when playgrounds are improved.”

Emma Vogelmann, Scope’s lead policy adviser, said many playgrounds are not designed with disabled children in mind, using woodchip or sand floors that may be difficult for children with wheelchairs, or concrete floors that are dangerous for those prone to falling.

“It leaves disabled children shut out,” said Vogelmann. “That’s why we’re calling on the government to create an inclusive playground fund so that councils can work with disabled children and their families to design playgrounds that work for them.”

Community spaces

Fillingham has had support from Scunthorpe MP Holly-Mumby Croft, who said she “cared immensely” about the issue. “Local representatives and our local authority are committed to making sure our communities are safe and open to all,” she said.

“Regardless of whether central government put forward ring-fenced funding, our case in North Lincolnshire shows that when the local authority works together with the community we don’t have to wait to make these changes. It is already possible to make parks inclusive and to give young people who have disabilities the opportunity to use community spaces.”

But with more than one million disabled children in the UK, minister for disabled people Chloe Smith gave no sign that additional central government funding would be provided. She pointed out that the government grant to English councils has been increased from £50.4 billion to £54.1 billion for 2022-23.

Praising Fillingham for her campaigning, Smith said: “As a mum of small children who love playgrounds, I really sympathise with the points she makes.

“In my role I see first hand the importance of inclusive and accessible spaces and places for disabled people. Every child deserves equal access to playgrounds, which are vitally important for social development.

“Where a local council is responsible for a playground, they should carefully consider how to make them inclusive.”

Photo: Wheelchair swings help make playparks inclusive (Alamy)

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