"Free to Play"

New guide helps local communities to open up play spaces for all

Free to Play – A guide to creating accessible and inclusive public play spaces launched by Maree Todd MSP, Minister for Childcare and Early Years.

A new guide to help local community groups to develop or improve their public play space has been launched in May 2018 by Maree Todd MSP at the Scottish Parliament.
Free to Play will help to ensure that all children and young people, including those with additional support needs, can exercise their right to play in their local communities.

The guide was produced by Inspiring Scotland, Play Scotland and the Nancy Ovens Trust in support of the Play Strategy for Scotland. The three charities are passionate about children’s right to play and the huge benefits having accessible play outdoor play space can have on children’s development.

The guide’s authors, Theresa Casey and Harry Harbottle, are experts on play, children’s rights and inclusive play spaces.
Maree Todd, MSP, Minister for Childcare and Early Years, said: “We want Scotland to be the best place to grow up, a nation which values play as a life-enhancing daily experience for all our children and young people. Accessible and inclusive play spaces help to ensure that all our children and young people, including those with additional support needs, can exercise their right to play.

“This guide is comprehensive, practical and inspiring. It will help groups make informed choices and avoid common mistakes and should be the first point of reference for all groups in Scotland wishing to make better spaces to play.”
Free to Play will help improve the quality and inclusiveness of public play areas, making them welcoming community gathering places and ensuring they are utilised as important community assets, promoting health, wellbeing and a sense of community.

The guide is for any group that has come together to develop or improve a public play space. These groups may be friends of parks, community councils, community planning partnerships or groups of local parents, carers, professionals and youngsters who have identified a gap or recognised the need for improved space to play.
The guide will help to plot a route from initial planning to commissioning the design and build of a good place to play so that children of different ages, abilities and play preferences are able to play together. It provides tips, templates, plans, advice and examples.

At the time of writing this guide, Dumfries and Galloway Council have made an investment in play parks in Dumfries,Stranraer and Annan. The objective is to improve inclusive provision and to maximise opportunities by working with local community and voluntary groups in the three locations. The guide has been greatly enhanced by the opportunity to engage with the groups and council officers involved in the process. This helped clarify the kind of information and advice that community groups might need but which can be hard to find. The lead group for the development of Catherine Street Play Park in Dumfries is the Parents Inclusion Network(PIN) which supports parents in the region who have a disabled son or daughter of any age. The PIN working group generously shared their experiences of places to play and allowed examples from their group’s play space project to be included in this guide.

Libby Welsh, Parent Inclusion Network/ Catherine Street Playpark, said: “Play is a fundamental right for all children and young people. If all play spaces were designed with disabled children in mind then this would improve the emotional and physical wellbeing of parents, siblings and children. All children need the same thing from a play space – to be included.”

Why play space?
Providing freely-accessible public play spaces is one of the important ways we recognise and support children’s right to play. In well-designed and located play spaces children can enjoy all the freedom, fun, sociability and the thrills and spills associated with playing. By protecting space for play we demonstrate that children’s play matters.

Local communities are often the driving force behind campaigning for, fundraising and developing good spaces for play, often in partnership with the local authority. It isn’t possible for every play space to meet all the play needs of every child and play spaces shouldn’t all be replicas of each other. It is important however that there are diverse community spaces in local areas which can accommodate children’s play needs in different ways.


Theresa Casey is a freelance consultant and author of many publications on play and children’s rights. She works in Scotland and internationally on advocacy and actions for children’s right to play. She has special interests in inclusion, children’s rights and the environment. Theresa was President of the International Play Association: Promoting the Child’s Right to Play (2008-17) and formerly Vice Chair of Scotland’s Play Strategy Implementation Group.

Harry Harbottle works mainly in Scotland and Ireland on supporting organisations and groups to design and install play spaces based on children and their connection with the elements. He was a member of the working group that developed a European Standards guide to accessible playgrounds. He speaks internationally on the balance between play value and safety. He is currently Chair of Play Scotland.

Partner organisations:

The Nancy Ovens Trustwas set up in memory of Nancy Ovens MBE to continue Nancy’s inspiring work. Nancy passionately believed that children should be involved in designing their own play and every year the Nancy Ovens National Play Awards celebrate and promote Scotland’s best play spaces and projects.
Play Scotland delivers the child’s right to play in Scotland. Play Scotland is the national organisation for play, working to promote the importance of play for all children and young people and campaigning to create increased play opportunities, to ensure all children and young people play everyday
Inspiring Scotlandstrives for a Scotland without poverty or disadvantage. Inspiring Scotland works with people, their communities, charities and public bodies to develop solutions to some of the deepest social problems. Inspiring Scotland has worked in partnership with the Scottish Government successfully supporting the development and expansion of free play in disadvantaged communities across Scotland.