In 2016, following consultation, Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council produced its Open Space Strategy which aims to identify areas that require further investment of time, resources and management to improve the quantity of, and accessibility to, certain types of open space.
The vision for the local authority is to ensure that play is recognised within its key strategies and policies. There is a strategic desire to increase coordination and working in partnership with others to improve children’s play opportunities across the county borough.
One of the priority areas identified in the 2016 consultation was Sandy Park, in Penydarren Ward. The local ward members, local authority officers, and third sector and community organisations, were all keen to work together to improve the area. This also ensures compliance with the Wellbeing and Future Generations Act 2015.
The consultation identified:
- The space was viewed as being austere, unfriendly and of an unwelcoming nature.
- A play friendly entrance was required to reinforce the status of the space for play activities.
- The physical access was poor and required graded levels and easy footpaths.
- The area required fun and play friendly signage that helps to explain the nature of the space and how it can be used for play.
- The status of the equipment needed to be checked, and any redundant play facilities removed.
- Dog fouling outside the play space’s fence was an issue.
- The equipment was aimed at younger children, with little for older children.
A community fun day and consultation event was held to engage with the community to look at the priority areas and to gather ideas and suggestions to improve the area. A consultation event was also organised with children and young people in the area to ensure their voices were heard and that they were involved in the decision making. The local primary school was also involved in the consultation process and they identified the following ‘wants’:
- painted or new equipment
- more and new swings
- see-saw, roundabout, climbing frame
- pool or water park
- bike and skate ramps
- slide with steps
- cater for older children
- litter bins.
- bicycle path around pitch
- skate park
- splash park
- dirt track
- picnic area.
- somewhere for kids to do crafts and arts
- improved access, especially for disabled people
- fetes in the summer.
Obviously, this is a ‘wish list’. However, some items received repeated requests, notably new play equipment, seating and a path to cycle bikes around.
Planning and implementation
The initial proposal was to create a play friendly entrance that reinforced the status of the space for play activities. The plan was for the entire space to be developed for ‘play’ with every aspect of the development to incorporate changes that benefit children’s play opportunities.
The space needed to:
- Be welcoming
- Have good and safe access
- Have clear signage, safe and secure equipment
- Address the issue of dog fouling
- Offer facilities of a recognisable quality standard.
The play area has been extended to include forms of more natural play, such as willow tunnels providing enclosure in the form of hedgerow trees. A more playful environment was to be created through the introduction of a more varied landscape structure, including:
- A wet area below the pitch which could be developed as a wet meadow through wildflower plug planting. This could be used for educational activities.
- Improving access through regulating surfaces and creating a more attractive entrance.
- Improving the banks to provide greater tree and shrub content to create more of a micro climate and shelter.
- Sourcing large tree trunks to be sculpted into informal seating.
- Opportunities for planting trees of interest at key entrances to improve appearance, provide cover and food for birdlife.
This provided a good start on how to shape the management of the park, however, resources were limited. The All Wales Play Opportunities Grant received from Welsh Government helped to support the development of the project.
A community event was held to clear up the area and paint the playground equipment. After discussion, a marketing campaign about the project was agreed, with many people from the community engaged in a planting day. Children from the local primary school worked with an artist on the willow structure and helped the biodiversity team with planting trees and shrubs.
Current and future development
The space has been hugely improved and feels like a more ‘loved’ space, even though this work is still in progress. The improvement to the Sandy Park area and development of the plan will be an ongoing priority. Discussions are taking place to develop a ‘friends of’ group in the area and to undertake a survey with the children in the local primary school to evidence the use of the playground, and to inform future developments. Future successor events are planned to maintain and increase local interest and activity.
The local community, stakeholders and partners are committed to improving this space and the area around Sandy Park as a Priority Open Space and intend to return for more work subject to further consultations taking place.