Greenbelt manages more than 200 play areas situated on our developments all across the UK, and we try our very best to make sure that every last one is kept clean and safe.
However, it’s a hard fact of life that even the best play area might need a little care and attention from time to time – whether through natural wear and tear or even deliberate vandalism, damage to the surfaces and equipment does happen, and that’s where our play area expert Doug Wallace comes in.
A former PE teacher, Doug has been working in the play area industry for 24 years, and has worked closely with Greenbelt since 2008; Doug and his team from Active Risk Management are specially trained to make sure that Greenbelt’s play areas stay up to scratch.
While all Greenbelt developments see a monthly site inspection by the relevant Regional Operations Manager that includes routine inspection of any play areas on-site, there is no substitute for the in-depth quarterly inspections conducted by Doug and his specially-trained staff.
Doug’s teams inspect our play areas regularly to make sure that everything from the play equipment to the surface to the fencing is fully compliant with European standard guidelines for play areas. Doug can recommend flexible repair of refurbishment works wherever necessary, which can be tailored to suit the individual needs of the specific Greenbelt development in question.
“Most manufacturers will provide a warranty covering manufacturing defects,” said Doug.
“However, typically you would expect to see a wooden structure last at least 10 years, and a steel structure up to 15 years. We can continue to extend the life of the play area well beyond their warranty periods.
“If the equipment is refurbished when required, the life extension could be as much as a decade. We can replace most components, even if the supplier has stopped manufacturing them.”
“A typical play area may have 5 or 6 play items and a bench, bin, fence and gate - but there are some play areas under Greenbelt’s ownership that differ significantly from this template. Greenbelt manages an estate of play areas that’s bigger than that of most UK local authorities,” said Doug.
“The primary purpose of our inspection regime is to ensure the equipment is in a condition that is fit for purpose and low-risk. The risk assessment drives repair priorities.
“Play equipment’s appearance is affected by three factors: vandalism, wear and tear, and environment. Fortunately we don’t experience high levels of vandalism, but it is not uncommon. Wear and tear and environmental damage have an increasing impact, both physically and financially, as equipment ages.”
Rather than outright scrap older equipment and replace it with brand-new pieces, it’s often better to carry out a refurbishment to increase the quality of existing play area features and prolong their lifespan. On average, a refurbishment is around 8 times cheaper than sourcing and installing new items, meaning that Greenbelt can keep local play areas in good order while minimising the cost to our residents.
“Replacing play equipment is expensive: a new swing set can cost more than £2,500 to supply and install. Wet-pour rubber surfacing will generally start to deteriorate after about 5 years, typically at the edges. Bark or woodchip surfaces will need topped-up around every 18-24 months,” said Doug.
“To mitigate these costs, Greenbelt has implemented a programme of phased refurbishments to minimise cost exposure to residents and extend the life of the play areas.
“A typical refurb will take 2 people 2-3 days. However, the works can be phased over a couple of years to allow sympathetic cost management.”
As well as repair and refurbishment works, Doug also ensures that all of Greenbelt’s play areas meet the requirements under European standard guidelines. In fact, he’s uniquely placed to do so, since his long career in the play area industry means that he actually assisted in drawing up these standards in the first place!
“The established pattern in private housing developments is for quarterly inspection, followed by an annual compliance inspection. The annual inspection is an assessment of whether the equipment satisfies the recommendations of BS EN 1176/77, which is the standard a court will revert to in the event of a legal action,” said Doug.
Doug and Active Risk Management are currently engaged in a focused programme of refurbishing Greenbelt play areas, promoting health and fitness for children.