Pensioners Playground – Manchester

Key Facts:

Project summary: Playground targeting residents aged 60+

Location: Damhead Park, Blackley, North Manchester.

Exercise / play equipment, designed around the needs of the elderly. Each station is supported by signage outlining how the equipment should be used and benefits that performing the exercises should achieve. Many of these benefits are tailored to the target market, for example that use of the bench stepper will reduce the risk of falling.

Initiator: Damhead Residents Association

Project Duration: Opened January 2008. Expected lifespan circa 10 – 15 years

Lead in Time: 12 month preparation and development phase

Site Area: Small area approximately 0.02ha (200m2)

Client Team: Manchester City Council

Project Team: Manchester City Council. Groundwork and installation carried out by the City Council Parks team. Equipment was supplied by two suppliers – : Playworld Systems and Wicksteed.

Funding Sources: Northwards Housing Association £15k
Funding Type: Internal Budgets

Project Costs (Build): Materials: £15k

NB: Equipment thought to have been provided at a discounted price from supplier as this was the first of the kind in the country. Council also received a discount due to purchasing play equipment at the same time. Groundwork and installation was carried out by Manchester City Council Parks Team and is not included in this budget.

Project Costs (Operation): Maintained as part of MCC play area budget. Circa £2k – £3k per annum.

Profitability/Loss: n/a

Permissions / Permits: Planning permission for the facility was not sought as there was no change of use. As landowner, Manchester City Council installed the equipment.

Local Links: Damhead Park also houses a children’s play area, multi-use games area and football goals for casual kick-about.

Publicity/advertising: There was significant international, national and local publicity as the first such scheme in the UK. Awareness was therefore high amongst residents. The facility is referenced on the Council website

Project Evaluation:

Site Details & Ownership:
Situated at Damhead Park, Blackley, North Manchester. Site ownership – Manchester City Council.

Project Reach / Visitors / Target Audience:
Due to the characteristics of the park and the catchment area that it serves, the facility is viewed very much as a local resource for residents in the immediate vicinity of the site and not as a facility that was designed to attract visitors from further afield.

The target age group was 65+ and equipment and facility location was designed with this in mind.

The facility has always been free to access and most users of the facility are thought to be in groups of no more than two and to use the facility informally (use is not formally monitored).

There are no known organised groups that use the facility. The only real efforts to encourage use of the site have been through word of mouth. These include Northwards Housing Trust highlighting the availability of the facility to tenants, and reference to the facility at Ward Committee meetings. The City Council suggests that this is perhaps one of the missed opportunities with the facility.

Problems Encountered / Overcome:
No specific problems encountered. However, the following points should be noted:
Implications for health and safety. Liability implications of encouraging older residents who are perhaps more vulnerable to injury to use the exercise equipment. Therefore, relevant signage and disclaimers are particularly important.

Use of facility by one target group needs to be considered and the impact on target users.

In addition, while the facility is well used, it is felt that opportunities to maximise the benefits perhaps have been missed together with the new facility at Ladybarn Park, where a walking circuit has been provided. This sets markers around the park every 200m to encourage walking alongside use of the new facility. A park ‘Fit and Fun’ day was held by the Ladybarn Friends Group which, as well as being a fun day with stalls and entertainment, introduced people to the new opportunities in the park.

Early indications suggest that this is proving to be very popular and is particularly meeting the needs of the local Asian population.

The City Council indicates that it intends to ensure that any future facilities are provided in partnership with other agencies to enhance the value of the facility. They highlight strong links for example with the PCT, who promote physical activity and suggest that organised activities, perhaps linked with health walks etc. would maximise usage. Early indications of the Ladybarn Park facility suggest that this would be even more successful.

Feedback from users / staff:
The Pensioners Playground has now been in-situ for over four years and overall, the City Council considers it to be a success, specifically:

  • It has proved to be an effective way of targeting and activating people in an age range that is increasing in number, but where there has been limited focus in previous years.
  • The facility is believed to be well used (although no monitoring of usage takes place) by the target market. It encourages residents who would not otherwise have done so to participate in light exercise.
  • The value of the park to the local community has increased and the site now seems to function as a focal point for all ages and not just young people.

In comparison to other facilities, and even with the adjacent playground, there has been limited vandalism and there is evidently respect for the facility. This is attributed to the process of developing the facility, which was stimulated from local community demand rather than through Council identification of need. There is thought to be a sense of ownership of the facility by local residents and the site has benefited from this. The creation of this site in conjunction with the local community has also proved a successful way of building capacity within the community.

The location of the facility is also thought to have contributed to the success with natural surveillance being particularly important.

Furthermore, the equipment chosen and the design of the space was with hindsight effective. The Council has identified that equipment that can be used as seating (particularly where there is also shelter) is far more likely to be misused.

What next?
Reflecting the perceived success of the facility, Manchester City Council has recently created a second similar facility, this time in the south of the city in Ladybarn Park, Withington. The Council would recommend installing pensioners playgrounds where “there is clear demand instigated by the local community that suggests that the equipment will be used”. They should seek to improve links to other facilities (for example a circular walking route has been installed in Ladybarn Park adjacent to the new playground) to maximise benefits.

Complementary Programmes:
There has not been any further activity to raise awareness of the facility or to link it with other activities or available facilities.

Project Website / Further Info: