I’m a big fan of adventure playgrounds. And while my clambering and scampering days are (broadly) behind me, I was intrigued to discover that Lambeth is home to London’s oldest instance of this venerable community institution: Triangle Adventure Playground.
Tucked away behind Oval Station on Ashmole Street lies a labyrinth of tyre swings, zip-lines, slides, gardening antics and arts & crafts. Triangle was established in 1957 by the late Marjorie Porter MBE – one time Mayor of Lambeth – who was honoured in 1999 for services to young people for her work at the playground as well as numerous other schemes throughout the borough.
‘The Triangle is a vital space – and has been for many years for many people. We have met families from whom three generations have played at Triangle.’ And with so many people using the space that’s no surprise:
‘We had over 690 children use the playground during the last 12 months, with typically 50 – 80 visitors daily. We are completely free so one and all are welcome. Our users range from the ages of 6 – 18 but under-5s are welcome with mum or dad.’
Gabriel tells me that Triangle has recently been decorated in recognition of its work: ‘The Triangle are proud winners of The Best Variety in Play 2012 at the London Playground of the Year Awards so we can safely say we offer a huge range of activities for young people!’
So what do they do? Well, as this award might suggest, it could be easier to say what they don’t do. Anyway, here goes! They cater for all kinds of athleticism through a huge range of swings and structures – from zip-lines to ‘big towers’; tango swings and platform swings They have bikes and mini-ramps, with safe-cycle classes during holidays. A football team is just starting an inter-playground league, and they also have ‘plenty of cricket/baseball/tennis/boxing/running races’.
On top of the athletic stuff, they have a huge focus on exploring nature: ‘we have an allotment full of veg and herbs for the kids to work on (a fine crop of potatoes and rhubarb last year) and trees and undergrowth for exploring and climbing. A lot of digging takes place and there is a pond and ‘Toad Hotel’ to investigate creepy crawlies.’
Triangle also encourages the kids to get involved in DIY, with ‘young people often picking up tools to build huts, create dens, dig pits for bonfires, gardening, painting structures or just fixing their bikes.’
But getting active doesn’t just have to be outdoors Gabriel tells me. ‘The Triangle also has a hut where our internal activities are put on. For example in the hut we have our pool table, table tennis and fussball table. Also arts and crafts – painting, drawing, mosaics, sculpture are all on offer. We also have board games galore and a selection of books for all ages. Homework club is available for anyone who wants help and space to do homework. One day a week there is a Wii for the young people to play. Cooking is also a big part of Triangle, the young people enjoy sorting and serving the term time daily snacks and during holidays they cook proper meals on a camping stove on the hut verandah. Last summer they compiled a cook book which has just gone to print.’ And if all that wasn’t enough, their ‘outdoor clay pizza oven is due for completion soon.’
Times haven’t always been easy for Triangle. In September 2010, children and youth users of the playground joined workers, parents and community members along with Kate Hoey MP to hand in a petition signed by 1100 people protesting at lost of council backing. And the fight for the future of the institution is an ongoing process: ‘the cuts are beginning to bite and we are losing 10% of our summer funding from Lambeth which equates to 98 hours playtime. We aim to raise the money ourselves’ through cake sales, jumble sales and the launch of a cook book which will be out soon – available from their website.
The variety of activities on offer and the importance of such a place for any community is why I remain such a fan of adventure playgrounds. They’re a crucial space for local kids to get active, to have fun, to learn, and to come together.
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