As a parent of two rapidly growing children and a former child myself I feel relatively confident to speak on the subject of playgrounds. Universally they are places for children to explore, create, play, set up adventures, escape and let off that infinite amount of energy children are blessed with. They are places for both children and parents to socialise, relax, find and build friendships.
Such crucial parts of every community.
I had never considered the needs of children with a physical disability and the fact that playgrounds did not come close to being suitable for so many families.
The first time I saw a Liberty Swing I was perplexed but in a totally dumb way thought “wow, that's great, someone is doing something for kids with disabilities”. Because I'm not so smart or observant it took me quite a lot of time to realise I had never seen anyone using a Liberty Swing. It took even longer before I found out that most (maybe all) are locked and require a key from the council to unlock them for use.
Which raised the question: WTF? (I'm nothing if not eloquent.) How tokenistic and insulting. Sure it's well meaning but it's not until you have been to a Livvi's Place Playground that you realise how it's very much not good enough.
What you notice at Livvi's Place, if you choose to take a moment to consider such things, is that they are designed by people who truly believe in and understand the idea of inclusion. Not in the idea of giving a token to appease the disabled lobby but in the idea of creating truly beautiful, well designed, functional play spaces where every family and every child can find fun in a safe environment.
I love that the playgrounds are enclosed. What a no-brainer! Every child is a potential runner and I have spent many terrifying moments searching for my children in playgrounds and one very memorable afternoon chasing my son across the vast open spaces of Bicentennial Park.
I love the sensory features which appeal to children with Autism and other sensory needs. Things which are interesting to touch, things which make interesting noises. How perfectly simple and wonderful.
The thing is inclusive means “for all” not “for some”. Driven by the amazing people at the Touched by Olivia Foundation you can see the care, love and attention to detail with which every Livvi's Place is built to be enjoyed by all.
I am a cynical old cow and have very little faith in bureaucracy doing good for society unless it's by accident or when goaded into action by people who truly care and live in the real world.
I don't often get emotional but at the opening of Livvi's Place Ryde a few months ago I came pretty close. The culmination of so much work, literally blood, sweat and tears; it was so touching. Being friends with the dynamic Bec Ho I know a little of what goes into such a playground. Co-ordinating the many interested parties: the council, the community, the sponsors.
But in the end it's about the children. As I walked around that afternoon and watched them joyfully explore the new play equipment the happy tears flowed. I thought about the sad story behind the creation of the Touched by Olivia Foundation and I thought about how beautiful it was that strong people could turn tragedy into something amazing and I though about how for all the bad people and all the bad things in this world there are people who work selflessly for a better world. I listened to Jay Laga'aia play his ukelele and make happy music for the happy families and for a brief moment in time my cynicism faded away and I was filled with peace and calm and a little bit of faith in humanity.
But then I went home and went back to my normal self, don't worry.