The experience of swinging through the trees with adventurous or romantic thoughts of Tarzan and Jane, or Robin Hood in your head is a very different experience from swinging on a 2 x 2 metal framework in a sterile and fenced “play” park. And the wish to achieve this in public space has been in many of our heads for a very long time. However, such a simple action has been beset with barriers to overcome until relatively recently in this country.
In fact one of the issues was/is from our own conjecture: surely one of the most exciting and liberating facets of tree swings is the very act of making it in the first place which is something that children are always doing anyway and long may that last! In support of this the Forestry Commission has produced very helpful advice to play providers on managing tree swings put up by others including when to leave them alone and when to remove them (link to publication)
On occasions, working on a site with fantastic mature trees just calling for children to discover and enjoy them, the desire to include rope swings is irresistible though not always easy to achieve.
Our first real achievement with tree swings came when working with Brighton City Council where the play providers shared our aspirations (as did the local children) and mature trees abounded in woodland play areas. Working with some adventure playground specialists we developed a number of bespoke designs which were very simple to fabricate. We applied risk benefit assessment at the design stage, and this was repeated by Brighton City Council once the swings were installed. This included and looking at the specific and local potential hazards. We involved arboriculturists to assess the strength and health of the trees and tree surgeons to trim back limbs where necessary.
Maintenance of the swing as well as the maintenance of the tree was thought through from the start and was integral to the risk benefit assessment. This research and planning was crucial to gaining the cient’s support and in modifying existing health and safety processes.
The swings had rubber pendulum seats, sleeved chain suspension (rather than rope) and bracing to a second supporting branch to lessen the stress on the supporting limb.
Decisions relating to the “fall zones” also take some judgement. Rubber matting, though quite expensive, is practical where roots prevent excavation or the ground is sloping. The longer the swing the higher the fall and the bigger the “fall zone” necessary. However this can be offset with the use of mounding to reduce the fall height. In some of the spaces we used bark as an alternative to rubber matting and in one case, the provider judged that the fall was so insignificant that no additional surfacing was required.
Follow up observation of these swings (also in the London Borough of Redbridge) has shown that these relatively inexpensive features are still a firm favourite with local children and we would encourage and support other providers to try them.