At Fields in Trust we have frequently written about parks and green spaces as the most universal of our public services as they are used by all members of the community from pre-school children to retired adults. Yet frequently, not all elements of park provision - particularly children's play equipment - is accessible to all park users.
With that in mind, this week's Summer of Parks spotlight shines on the inclusive facility that has been developed at Diversity Park in Portstewart, Northern Ireland. This unique park has been designed to support children of all abilities having fun together. The installed play equipment ensures children with disabilities can enjoy the park alongside their peers, for example a wheelchair swing allows children the experience of playing on a swing whilst still in their wheelchair.
The Portstewart Diversity Park has been open since 2016. It is located within the grounds of Flowerfield Arts Centre and is a flagship project developed and created by Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council with funding provided through the Council's contribution to the Landfill Communities Fund, administered by Ulster Wildlife.
The park was designed and built following support from local residents who wanted to see a space that would be an enjoyable place for all children, and in particular those who require a little more support than others. One family were instrumental in ensuring the park met the needs of the whole community: Christine and George McClements promoted the provision of a fully inclusive park, which would allow their daughter Lilia to play alongside her sisters Grace and Cassie.
Christine knew from her own family that children's ability to play and live a full life is vitally important and this should be the case for all children with learning and physical disabilities within the community. Speaking at the park opening she said: "A number of people have commented to me that in years gone by you would have never seen a disabled child like Lilia out and about. This park says that as a society we expect our disabled children to be out in our community enjoying their lives and we are going to provide the facilities to allow this to happen".
Crucially, the Diversity Park is equipped with a mix of play equipment and designed in a way that enables all children to enjoy playing alongside their brothers, sisters and friends. As well as catering for children with mobility needs, there is provision for young people with additional sensory needs. The park features a number of scented elements which give off a variety of smells including honey and lavender. There's also an area aimed at younger children, picnic tables and a quiet area.
Recognising the needs of families using the park there is also a fully equipped spacious toilet area with an electric ceiling hoist and a full length electronically height adjustable changing bed for those that might need it when in the area.
Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council are committed to improve the services they offer people with disabilities and are a signatory to the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland's 'Every Customer Counts' initiative, designed to encourage organisations in Northern Ireland to consider how their services are working for those with a disability, identify gaps in provision and see how they can be improved.
The Mayor of Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council, Councillor Sean Bateson, said: "The Diversity Park is a unique facility which allows all children to play together within a welcoming and inclusive environment. It has proved hugely popular with local families and visitors since it first opened".
With the development of Diversity Park in Portstewart the council has taken a lead and shown what is possible for future play park provision which ensures all children can play together in a safe and fun environment.
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