An inclusive adventure play area is coming to Leighton Buzzard, as in a landmark move youngsters of all abilities will be able to play together.
Leighton-Linslade Town Council (LLTC) has ordered £300,000 of new equipment to develop a fully inclusive children's park in Parson’s Close Recreation Ground, including a multi-play unit that wheelchairs can access.
The equipment was ordered on Friday, with plans to install the new play area in 2022.
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Ian Haynes, Head of Grounds and Environmental Services at Leighton-Linslade Town Council, said: "We have been working with local community groups and parents to increase the inclusive offer with our play areas, so the idea for Parson's Close is that families who potentially have disabled wheelchair-bound children will be able to play together with able bodied children. That was our vision.
"I think it should be the norm that all children of all abilities can play together. Able bodied children won't notice the difference; however, non-able bodied children will now be able to play at height in a wheelchair which is almost unheard of."
The equipment will be provided by a company called HAGS and it is hoped that it will be installed before the summer holidays. Planning permission was granted in August.
Talking about its key feature, Ian added: "The main one is the multi-play unit. It's large (but not too large), and it's a one-off, bespoke, inclusive unit. You won't find anything similar nearby.
"A good 60% of the main climbing frame is accessible and it's a project that's been a long time coming."
The equipment will be funded by a Public Works Board loan, with repayments being met in the annual revenue budget.
There will be no requirement to increase the precept (the Town Council’s proportion of residents’ Council Tax bill) to fund the project.
The LLTC website states: "The Town Council has had a long term aspiration to increase the availability of accessible play equipment in the parish. This has led to the gradual installation of more accessible play equipment over time in a number of Town Council owned play areas.
"As the town’s most centrally located, most popular and most visited park, it has long been the intention to develop a fully inclusive adventure play area in Parson’s Close Recreation Ground, in which children of all abilities and needs can play together – including playing at height. This aspiration forms part of the Town Council’s Five Year Plan and Objectives for 2019-2024."
LLTC chose to "specifically approach contractors with proven experience in designing accessible adventure play", and feedback was sought from local groups and organisations with a focus on meeting additional needs.
A LLTC spokesman said: "Once completed, the Parson’s Close adventure play area will realise a town council held ambition to provide an inclusive play area that will allow children of all abilities to play alongside each other. In arriving at a final design, the Town Council has worked with local user groups to ensure that the design and equipment offered will provide maximum play value to all children regardless of ability. With funding now secured from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Community, it is anticipated that work will start in early spring and be completed for the start of the summer holidays”.