The park known as the home of children’s play has launched a global search to find the iconic top ten attractions which graced the world’s first playgrounds.
Wicksteed Park, Kettering, the birthplace of modern-day play equipment, plans to bring the items home and give them a new lease of life as part of its @Play project funded by The National Lottery.
The restored pieces of play equipment will take pride of place in the world’s first Heritage Play Area, being created at the park and featuring original Wicksteed play equipment.
The park was founded in 1921 by Charles Wicksteed, the creator of swings and slides as we know them today, as part of his vision to inspire and encourage play as part of families’ health and well-being.
The play equipment he manufactured in Kettering was exported around the world and their appeal made playgrounds such an integral part of growing up for generations of children.
The top ten has been drawn up by the Wicksteed Charitable Trust, which was formed to ensure Charles’ work and his park continued long after his death. They are keen for people with any heritage items of Wicksteed play equipment to get in touch.
The Heritage Play Area already boasts a replica of the park’s first wooden slide and an old playground rocking horse, which was restored to its former glory after being rescued from a ditch near Margate where it had been abandoned and left to rust.
The top ten favourites are:
1) Wooden slide
4) All metal slide
5) Giant stride
6) Merry go round
7) All Metal rocking horse/boat
8) Ocean wave/Witches Hat
9) Gymnasium (ie, ‘outdoor gymnastic set’ with trapeze rings)
10) Plank swing / Jazz / See saw swing
Oliver Wicksteed, Chairman of the Wicksteed Charitable Trust, said: “All the exciting work we have planned for the park builds on the extraordinary legacy of Charles Wicksteed.
“The play equipment that he devised and created has been enjoyed by children across the world for generations.
“Not only the slides and swings but things like the gymnasium, the merry go round and the ocean wave is fondly remembered by many and were the predecessors of the modern playground equipment we know today.
“Whenever you talk to people they all have fond memories of playing in playgrounds when they were younger and the chances are the things they were playing on were made by Wicksteed.
“The appeal is for any old play equipment from 40, 50 or 60 years ago or even older.
“We are going to bring them home to the park and allow families and children, in particular, to enjoy them once more and learn about the history of play, in what will be the only heritage playground of its kind in the world.”
Before Wicksteed, public parks were very formal places, where children were warned to keep off the grass.
But he envisaged a place to thrill young people and families and encourage them to enjoy an unrestricted outdoor play.
Oliver Wicksteed said that Charles would have rebelled against the ‘snowflake generation’ and ‘nanny state’ which will mean that many of the playground attractions will have to be modified or fitted with extra safety measures.
He said: “Our aim is to rediscover these attractions and interpret them in a way that is exciting and challenging for children but is also safe and educates people about the origins of modern playgrounds.
“Of course safety is paramount, but Charles would have fought tooth and nail against any regulations which he perceived to be unnecessary and too restrictive because he wanted children to have fun.
“If you look at the photographs of the original equipment then they are full of people doing things which they may not be allowed to do today but the risk is a part of life and they were all having great fun.
“We have to be careful that modern play doesn’t become too sanitised because of the modern claims culture and over-protective parents preventing their children doing anything stimulating or exciting.”
The @Play project will showcase the park’s heritage, and enhance the enjoyment of play in line with the original vision of its founder.
The restorations are being funded by a grant of £1.89 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund, with the majority of the remaining investment coming from the Wicksteed Charitable Trust itself, supported by smaller donations from Northamptonshire County Council and Kettering Borough Council.
The park will now reach its full potential as a heritage and learning resource for the local community and the large number of visitors who use the park and it will now be restored to its former glory.
Among the other exciting changes at the park, a new Activity Plan programme will build on the park’s current educational and community work; incorporating new staff posts, training, an expanded volunteer programme, enhanced archive project and further engagement of the community.
There will also be an annual Festival of Play for the local community. Volunteers will serve as Park Ambassadors to provide information on the park and its history, which will be told using traditional and digital methods of interpretation.