The third older people’s playpark to be built in the UK opened in March 2010 in Aberdeen City’s South Esplanade West. The first pensioners’ playground in Europe opened in Berlin in 2008, designed by a woman engineer who noticed how older people in China used simple pieces of government-provided equipment to exercise in parks, on streets and in subway stations. Later in 2008 the first UK playpark for the over-70s in Dam Head Park in North Manchester was built, followed by one in London. The Aberdeen park features six gym machines, including a chest press, a space walker and a pull-down exerciser to help people become fitter and remain fit.
The facility is named ‘Billie’s Playpark’, after Billie Arthur, a 79 year-old community activist from Torry (a community close to the city centre) who helped raise funds for the campaign. She is a person to whom it is difficult to say no! In November 2008, she saw a report on the news about the Manchester playpark and immediately set about finding out more and establishing an action group.
A Torry community worker supported Billie and the action group received £15,000 from the NHS Health Improvement Fund. Using this as the ‘foundation’, they also secured funding from the Fairer Scotland Fund and tapped into the Shell UK as well. These were supplemented by countless ‘small donations’ from local people and from those who admired their efforts to actually make a difference. At the stage where they were close to achieving their goal, the Harbour Board approached them and offered to make up the shortfall of £2,500 as Billie’s husband had worked for the Harbour Board for many years. Aberdeen City Council offered a site close to the river which already had a children’s play park. The site, installations and the maintenance costs were gifted by the council as an in-kind contribution.
During the planning stage, the intergenerational element was incidental. However they now intend to build on this approach, encouraging grandparents and grandchildren to visit the park together. Picnic benches are planned, to encourage local people to use the site for summer eating. There is also a link planned to a local community food organisation, CFiNE, so that connections are made between physical exercise, healthy eating and well-being – for all generations.
- A local champion
- local community enthusiasm for the idea
- community workers to smooth the path
- local organisations offering financial and other support
- local media and the local press to publicise the park.
This intergenerational space has the potential to improve the well-being of people of all ages in Torry, not only by encouraging them to take more exercise, but also by giving them the opportunity to meet and socialise in an attractive and enjoyable environment.
What people have said
Alma Duncan: “The project gives a focal point outdoors and offers new fun ways of exercising which is important.”
Colin Parker, from Aberdeen Harbour Board: “The local community is very important to us and we are delighted to be involved, as the facility will benefit many people in the area. We are delighted to meet the Torry Groups’ fundraising target.”
Lord Provost Peter Stephen: “The active playpark is a great way for older members of the community to enjoy exercise while being able to enjoy the fresh air alongside the River Dee. The creation of the park is a wonderful testament to the enthusiasm and determination of everyone involved in making the dream a reality. As a community effort, this is outstanding.”
Last words to Billie Arthur: “Any gran will be able to take their grandchild down to the park, put them on a swing and then have a go in their very own playground. It’s a social thing, folk will be able to sit and chat while other people are using it.”