On this page, we’ve looked to answer a few of the queries the Theories Landscapes most commonly receive from prospective clients in East London, North London, South London, West London and the wider UK. While they cover many aspects of our playground design service, it may be that you have a question not featured here, perhaps regarding a specific piece of school playground equipment (e.g climbing frames) that you are interested incorporating within your natural playgrounds. If this is the case, we urge you to give our friendly team a call on 0207 254 7282.
1 – How do I get started?
There are three decisions you have to make, and then we can guide you through the rest of the process:
First, establish your budget. Figure out how much you have available for a playground design project and remember to allow for VAT if applicable.
Then, develop a comprehensive play brief either with the children or with a committee of interested members of the school community. Remember that the broader the consensus of your aims, the more likely the project is to be a success. The product is just half of the equation, how you use and manage the play improvements is equally important. The play brief can be a statement about a design principal (e.g we are interested in natural playgrounds, rather than a “man-made” style playground design) or specific (e.g. we need active play provision).
Finally, establish how the project will be overseen, selecting a person or persons to get involved in the process. We need someone to refer back to with questions and options. The project will also need some continuing involvement from the school while construction is taking place, so that we can inform you of what is going on. Because this is a design/build process, changes and additional ideas may develop during the course of construction. We can help you in these preliminary stages of the playground design project, for example by assisting you in developing the brief, management process etc. We can be involved as little or as much as you like or require.
2 - Do you know how I can fundraise for my project?
Although times are tight, there are still loads of schemes, awards and ideas available. It’s having the time to locate and take advantage of these resources that is so time consuming. You should contact national play resources such as Play England (www.playengland.org.uk/ ) and Learning Through Landscapes (www.ltl.org.uk/ ). Your Local Authority should also be aware if any regional funding is available. Many of our East London, North London, South London and West London clients have benefited from schemes financing new natural playgrounds.
Be aware that it is better, at this early stage, to err towards over-estimating your budget needs so that when the real costs are finally calculated, you may still achieve what you want and need. Needless to say, development projects often turn out more expensive than first thought.
3 - Is it always necessary to pay for playground design and what is the cost?
A design fee is not always necessary. If your needs and where it goes are relatively simple (a single piece of school playground equipment, like climbing frames, in an already pre-established area) we are happy to draft up a preliminary proposal with costs. We have tried to keep the cost down to a minimum so that it our services are available to all nurseries, primary and pre-schools.
However, most of our natural playgrounds are sufficiently complex to require site plans and some considerable planning and discussion. If this is the case, we will predetermine a playground design fee cost that will be agreed before we begin any work, though the initial consultation always remains free.
What is the cost of playground design? How long is a bit of string? The design fee depends upon the complexity of the brief you/we devise, the complexity of natural playgrounds (and whether you already have a scale plan of that area), and how many people are involved in overseeing the design (one head teacher and/or the school council and/or parents and/or Staff etc). Once these variables have been decided, we provide a written fee bid, which we stick to whatever complications arise. This playground design fee constitutes an individual contract and is payable upon completion, irrespective of whether the build part of the project proceeds and even if further funding is never achieved.
4 - Why is playground design necessary at all?
It depends upon the situation and your ambition. Play is a complex and fascinating activity and we hope that our 30 years of designing and making natural playgrounds around East London, North London, South London, West London and the wider UK adds a more sophisticated palette of play solutions and options than the traditional array of catalogue school playground equipment.
Play is primarily a natural and social activity which can only in part be satisfied with playground equipment such as climbing frames, slides and roundabouts. We also create engaging and interesting play spaces where children can explore and develop their own spontaneous and ever fascinating play activities together. It is considering that combination of the physical and emotional needs of the child that makes our playground design experts special, their solutions more interesting and the children that use them more fulfilled.
Playground design might also be necessary to raise funds. Approaching funders with a written paragraph describing the need for new natural playgrounds / school playground equipment carries less weight than a design drawing and a detailed breakdown of costs.
It is also the case that many projects around East London, North London, South London and West London can only be achieved over a number of years, as and when funding is achieved. Playground design can therefore be broken down into phases. Each subsequent phase is guaranteed to fit snugly with the previous ones, ensuring continuity and integration. Too frequently we visit a play area to find the previous attempt to make an improvement smack bang in the wrong place, as a consequence of poor playground design.
5 - Is it always necessary to obtain competitive tenders?
You will always need to take advice from those providing or managing the budget, but it is also true that the so called rules are often easily misinterpreted. The common assumption is that three competitive tenders are necessary every time any money is spent to ensure so called best value, and to safe-guard the school from accusations of misuse of funds. This is not always the case.
Design and Build is a particular contract process that cannot be put into this generic solution. If you were in a position to persuade three playground design and build companies to give you free designs and costs, they would be for three entirely different products/solutions/layouts. Therefore, by their individual nature they are not directly comparable in any way.
More enlightened local authorities around East London, North London, South London and West London are aware of this contradiction. As time goes by, they have become more familiar with playground design / build processes having used similar resources when building schools and public properties.
The following advice we have received from a Local Authority Procurement Officer in London, whose remit is to advise schools on such matters. It outlines the correct procurement procedure for choosing and making an appointment for a playground design and build project:
"…for works or designs fees under £5k (in the case of Tower Hamlets) you would only require one quote following interviews that informed the choice/decision. As such the quote 'for a one-off design fee' would comply with the procurement guidelines…”
“…The design produced by a designer/builder cannot be used to obtain a competitive tender (contractual and liability complications) but a build project can still be awarded to that design/builder (even if the budgets are considerably greater than £5k) if a report is compiled justifying that choice (see directors action attached*) on the grounds of cost/value for money, and ability to deliver etc. If this is done, then 'procurement' and financial regs. process is satisfied.”
*[A Directors report should be written to record and justify the choice.]
Needless to say, as one of East London, North London, South London and West London’s foremost playground design and build experts; we have been creating special natural playgrounds and place spaces for nearly 30 years. Over this period, we have not found that our clients have needed to make recourse to traditional competitive tendering processes. Furthermore, we are of the opinion that the competitive tendering process simply guarantees the cheapest and therefore worst play value option.
6 - Why don’t you price the play features on the web site?
Our primary objective as playground design specialists is to create the best play spaces possible, whether in the form of sprawling natural playgrounds or small areas with just a few pieces of school playground equipment (e.g climbing frames). As such, none of the play solutions we’ve established around East London, North London, South London and West London have ever been replicated. Consequently, we do not have a catalogue are not able to give you a definitive price list.
Instead we design, manufacture and install play areas to meet your specific and special requirements, so each playground area will have different costs according to your individual needs and circumstances. The nature and advantage of playground design / build is that we can make every design special and unique. That doesn’t mean more expensive, it means that we can design to the specific age group, play requirement and situation to make the best play opportunities possible.
Furthermore the design and build process affords us the flexibility that allows us to uniquely integrate and synthesise different play elements together to create more play opportunities and better play spaces (rather than setting school playground equipment side by side, leaving unusable corridor spaces between them). It is only once a play design has been created that we can provide fixed detail costs.
7 - Where are you based? Are you local to me?
The Theories design studios are in Hackney, East London. We prefabricate none of our school playground equipment and instead revel in displaying the processes of construction in front of the children, as the raw timber arrives and is slowly turned into a play feature.
If you are in the East London, North London, South London or West London area the answer to the second part of this question will be yes! We have designed and installed 250 natural playgrounds for schools, nurseries, parish councils and park environments across the capital. To find an example near you, use the location drop down menu and choose a part of London that relates to you or where you live.
8 - How long have you been trading for?
Theories Landscapes has been designing, building and installing school playground equipment and children’s play areas since 1983. Our playground products, playground equipment and services are used by:
• Local authorities
• Parish councils
• Housing Contractors
• Children’s Centres
• Secondary Schools
• Community Groups
9 - Are Theories staff CRB checked?
Yes, all our playground design staff and installation teams are CRB checked.
10 - How long will the installation take?
Our lead-times can vary enormously and are dependent upon the playground design process being satisfactorily concluded and signed-off. However, after this point we might expect it to be 6-8 weeks before we can arrive onto your East London, North London, South London or West London site (subject to our current contractual commitments at that time). However, we will of course always try to accommodate your needs.
The length of time we need on site will be dependent upon the contract size, and as everything is made on site in front of your and the children’s eyes, may constitute a good few weeks at least. But believe us, building natural playgrounds is a fun process to watch and participate in! Our staff are very used to working in a school play environment and are happy to answer questions and demonstrate practices and construction procedures.
11- How safe is your equipment?
All Theories’ projects will be validated by a professional and independent Risk Assessment in the form of a Post Installation Inspection report. This ensures that the design complies with British and European standards EN1176 for Playground Equipment and EN1177 for Impact Absorbing Playground Surfacing.
Theories’ playground design and installation staff are all fully trained in safe construction techniques, and our project testimonials from East London, North London, South London and West London clients repeatedly praise our staff’s work ethic and friendly attitude towards the children.
12 - Is safer flooring required?
As a part of our design assessment, we will advise you on what form of surfacing is required to conform to prevailing standards. As a playground design / build company with no ties to any particular manufacturer, we can offer a wide variety of solutions ranging from low tech and playful solutions like sand, to high-tech and more expensive solutions like bonded rubber granules. The various safer surface options all have their pros and cons, varying in their play value, material cost, installation cost, maintenance cost, longevity, environmental impact, etc.
13 - What are Risk Benefits?
It has become increasingly more recognised that the endeavour to eliminate risk in play, in reaction to parental fears and litigious paranoia, is neither possible nor desirable. Taking risks is a necessary part of play and the play experience. There is also evidence that shows that safe play is boring and the children compensate for the overly safe play environment by inventing dangerous activities.
Rather than eliminate risk, we instead deliberately design-in a sense and quality of risk where appropriate. This does not mean that accidents will happen within our natural playgrounds and on the school playground equipment we build, it simply means if properly used and supervised, the children will be able to experience and manage risk responsibly. Risk management is an essential and important skill, and without the opportunity to develop it in play, that lesson can never be learnt until it’s too late.
Below, we’ve linked to a few different resources where you can read more on the concept of Risk Benefits in playground design:
14 - Why do you use timber?
We love working with timber. It’s tactile and warm to the touch. It’s a natural material that’s perfect for our East London, North London, South London and West London natural playgrounds. It never gets too hot in the sun, or too cold in the winter. Have you ever seen a child nestle down and build a den on a metal platform, or cuddle up to a steel post? There you have it!
15 - Can children get splinters from the timber?
We endeavour to ensure that all splinters are smoothed away before children start playing on our school playground equipment, but timber is a natural material that is prone to expansion and contraction as it absorbs and loses water content. As a consequence of this process, splinters are inevitable and are to be expected after a few months usage. These splinters are likely to be small, relatively harmless and easily rubbed off with sand paper. However, we are rarely told that this is a problem with the timber we supply and use.
16 - Some small splits and cracks have appeared on my playground equipment – what should I do?
Timber is a natural material that expands and contracts as air humidity changes. This movement in the wood is often expressed as minor splits and cracks. This is quite normal and will not compromise the integrity of school playground equipment / natural playgrounds around East London, North London, South London and West London in any way.
This phenomena of splitting is particularly true of logs or poles that use core timber. As long as these splits are no deeper than half the timber pole or wider than 8.9mm, they are not considered either a structural weakness or a significant risk to the children. Splits, if they become larger than 8.9mm, can easily be filled with an elastomeric mastic compound.
17 - Does the wood need treating?
The timber supplied by Theories is pre-treated (class 4 grade where possible) to protect it against rot and fungal decay, as well as insect attack. It will change colour over time and take on a slivery grey. We rigorously re-treat any timber that is cut and recommend a bi-annual (d.i.y.) maintenance regime to further improve the life and fitness of your school playground equipment / natural playgrounds. We will provide notes for the care of your timber.
Keep in mind that all Theories’ softwood timber supplies are from sustainable resources. We also encase individual poles at ground level with expansion collars to protect them against damage and treat all below ground level posts with bitumastic paint to increase their life and resistance to rot.
18 - How often do I need to inspect my playground?
East London, North London, South London and West London Head Teachers are responsible for ensuring the safety of their outdoor play environments. Apart from a daily visual check and quarterly written checks (normally carried out by the premises manager), it is advisable to commission an annual inspection report. Theories Landscapes Ltd can do this for you and we relish the opportunity to re-visit our projects to see what is successful and what problems have been arising. In this way we learn and refine our playground design and construction techniques.
An annual report will provide significant defence if there is an accident in the playground, your position could be considerably weakened if not available. In our experience a regular inspection regime can also significantly reduce maintenance costs considerably.
An annual report will comprise an analysis of all play features and the play environment, together with a risk assessment and detailed costed maintenance recommendations. We will also endeavour to carry out any minor repairs on school playground equipment that we can at the same time charge. Costs are £250/report when Theories are commissioned. Theories landscapes Ltd can carry out all repairs, remedial work as well as maintenance tasks if desired.
19 - Does the playground need to be maintained and what do we do if it requires a repair?
Maintenance is regrettably always going to be necessary to some degree or other. Like maintenance-free planting, it does not really exist whatever is said to you. Timber, in particular, will greatly benefit from on-going bi-annual re-treatment. See FAQ 17.
We are able to offer a comprehensive maintenance and repair service. Repairs and maintenance can normally be carried out very quickly, especially if you are located within the East London, North London, South London or West London areas.
20 - Is your work guaranteed?
All Theories landscaping and environmental work carries a minimum 6 months guarantee, but is subject to appropriate usage. Surfacing supplied by our nominated sub-contractors normally carries a 5 year guarantee. School playground equipment carries a 2 year guarantee subject to appropriate usage and excludes some fixtures, fixings and fittings.
The expected life of the timber is expected to be in excess of 10 years. Naturally occurring splits, knots and cracks in timber are not covered by a guarantee. The warranty covers the supply of parts onlyand does not include any installation labour costs.