Little Brixton: A child’s oasis

By Lucy Burton


My daughter has recently learnt to walk and we are already struggling to not turn into “helicopter” parents, constantly hovering for fear of bangs or knocks. So, although still several years away for her, I was keen to check out one of the many adventure playgrounds in the area to get a better idea of how the professionals handle the delicate balance between freedom and risk. I enlisted my nephews to help me review the Oasis adventure playground in Stockwell, which has recently celebrated its 40th anniversary. During the summer holidays they run a playscheme from 10.30 to 4pm for six to 16 year olds (in term time they are open after school and on Saturdays). We turned up just after midday, and were pretty lucky to get in. It’s probably a good idea to call before you leave to check they have space, although they can’t reserve spaces. The idea is that you leave your children to play under the supervision of their staff; a mixture of paid play workers and volunteers, a good many of whom have a qualification in playwork. However, because it was our first visit (and I wanted a good look around!) we stayed and watched them play. Sylvie, the playground manager, said it’s pretty common for parents to stay on their first visit, and then leave their children behind after this. If you want to leave your children for the whole day you will need to provide them with a packed lunch, but other than the cost of this there is no charge (the scheme is largely funded by a lottery grant).

The playground is accessed via Larkhall Lane (rather than Priory Grove, where we spent a good five minutes rattling the back gates to no avail), and children need to be signed in via a front office. As soon as we had registered them the boys ran off in the direction of the large climbing rock in the middle of the playground. My first impression was one of surprising calm. I sometimes feel I don’t have enough arms to deal with one pretty small child, so I have to confess the idea of a ratio of one adult to ten children led me to imagine a slightly chaotic scene, but somehow the light touch supervision really works. At first glance it was hard to spot the staff at all, but they very quickly appear at the first sign of any incident that needs their intervention. The children are free to choose what they want to play on or with, and the philosophy of the adventure playgrounds is that they are encouraged to take risks in a safely supervised environment. Aside from the climbing rock there are zipwires, tyre swings, and bikes and carts to ride around a track that goes around the whole playground. The bikes and carts definitely seemed to be the most popular choice with the kids who were there on the same afternoon as us, although we didn’t venture to the sports pitch where there was an enthusiastic game of football going on.

Another concern I’d had before I arrived, was that leaving a shyer child or one without a sibling or friend would be quite daunting for them, but it was also explained to me that the risk taking isn’t just limited to physical activity, and the scheme is designed to help children make new friends as well. Indeed the nephews got chatting to some other boys in the sandpit, and both said after they would be happy to be left if they went again. A lot of the children are local and regular; with a large concentration of flats nearby the playground acts as a garden for a lot of them. In fact, a proportion of the volunteers are children who used to use the playground and have returned to help. I was told they are always looking for new volunteers, both qualified and unqualified, details for how to apply on their website ( There is also a great inclusion programme, and one of the other aims of the scheme is to get able bodied and disabled children playing alongside one another which we saw to great effect when we visited.

This is a great local resource, and I will definitely be returning! The project also runs a nature garden (with a session for under 5’s on a Friday) and go-karting project. Oasis is one of 14 adventure playgrounds in Lambeth, and anyone interested in learning more about the philosophy of such schemes should visit for more information.