Chapelfield Play Area, Cowie, Near Stirling

Client: Stirling Council
Location: Cowie near Stirling
Designers: Judi Legg, Play Space Designer, and Mike Hyatt, Landscape Architect
Contractors: Landcare Solutions (Scotland) Ltd.
Date : Opened 2006
Capital Cost: Approximately £110,000
Funding: Section 75 (Scottish equivalent to Section 106) housing developers’ contributions; BBCChildren in Need; Stirling Landfill Tax Trust; Cowie Play Areas Group local fundraising events.
Maintained by: Stirling Council with community input and oversight.

In 2000, a local child drowned in a farmer’s pond in Cowie, an ex-mining village near Stirling. This tragic event prompted local residents to form the Cowie Play Areas group to campaign and raise funds for a local play area.

A suitable site was identified – an area of archaeological significance which had been the site of an ancient Neolithic settlement and therefore was not available for housing development. While it was an eminently suitable site in that local children already played there, it was also contentious in that it was adjacent to the pond in which the child had drowned. It took some time to work through painful feelings  about the drowning and also to achieve design solutions that took regard of these particular local safety issues, without compromising the children’s need to experience challenge and risk, and also to have a degree of privacy and independence.

Local children paid a visit to a pre-history park, Archaeolink, and many of the ideas they got from this visit as well as information about the pre-historic Cowie site itself have been built into the design of the park, which includes shelters, cooking and seating areas, and a raised beach, as well as mounds, tunnels, slides and a climbing wall. The children’s involvement in the design development has meant that the design concept which underpins the site layout contains elements which the children understand and which feel familiar to them.

The relatively few pieces of equipment are set in a succession of spaces which are carefully inter-connected.  Quite dramatic changes in level (particularly from a child’s perspective) have radically changed what was a previously completely flat site, and although the site is quite small, the feeling that ‘there’s always something round the corner’ means that visitors to the site are drawn to explore it and even adults are tempted to play here. The routes and paths through and round the site invite the use of bikes and other wheeled toys. The emphasis on natural elements works well in this relatively rural location, including ditches which in rainy weather can hold rain-water for a short while.

The site was originally treeless, and local children were involved in planting rowan, birch, Kilmarnock willows and Japanese maples. These planting sessions included environmental games, explanations and discussions about the value of trees to wildlife and to people, the reasons for including native species, and how the children themselves could best help to look after the trees and ensure their survival. The hedge boundary that reinforces and will eventually hide the fence between the play area and the farmer’s pond includes blackthorn, hawthorn and dog rose and there are attractive shrub areas of witch hazel, holly and honeysuckle.

Some initial problems with the misuse/over enthusiastic use of the site in the evenings by local teenagers were dealt with firmly and constructively by the local residents who have taken responsibility for locking the park at night.