‘The Land’ is a different kind of adventure playground in Wrexham, Wales, which doesn’t follow the traditional format of swings and slides. Instead, it allows kids to explore independence and take risks. The Land resembles a junk yard, where kids get to jump over barrels and into mud puddles, poke sticks into open fires, and hammer sharp nails into wooden planks.
“It’s shaped by children who attend,” said Claire Griffiths, play department manager at the Association of Voluntary Organisations, which manages The Land. “It’s open access provision so children come and go as they please. They build dens, saw, hammer; they create and they destroy.”
That pretty much sounds like a parent’s worst nightmare, but the concept is surprisingly popular. Most parents seem to agree that The Land offers a valuable childhood experience that has been missing for decades. It is the complete opposite of over-protective parenting that encourages children to stay indoors.
The Land was set up in January 2012; it was originally a piece of waste ground where children would gather to play, but would often be asked to leave for their own safety. However, Association of Voluntary Organisations realised that the site was actually quite beautiful. Complete with trees and streams, they could understand why the place was so attractive to children.
So they decided to introduce a few changes that would make the area more child-friendly. “We put a fence up to protect the private space and enable the children to build dens but for them to be there the next day when they return,” Claire explained. The association also employed eight people to work at the site, with a full-time worker who’s always at hand to help the children.
The Land has received international attention for its deviation from structured play. In 2012, American filmmaker Erin Davis learned about the offbeat playground through Facebook and decided to visit it herself. She was so impressed that she ran a Kickstarter campaign to help fund a documentary. Once she had the necessary funds, she returned to Wales and spent a month filming on site. She fitted the children with head cameras, to show viewers their perspective of The Land.
Her film managed to spark interest back home in the US, and two play workers were sent on a fact-finding visit to the adventure playground. “There is growing interest in play work and in adventure playgrounds in the US, which, at the moment only has four, all on the west coast,” said Joan Almon, co-founder of the US Alliance for Childhood.
“An American filmmaker making a documentary about The Land introduced us to this exciting place. We think it will serve as a powerful example of what children can do when they are allowed to play freely in an adventurous space and in the presence of skilled play workers.”
“The Land encourages children to run wild, be active, use their imagination and most importantly, take risks that kids today simply don’t usually take,” parenting magazine Inhabitots reports. “To deny kids freedom is to raise kids who will very likely choose to live a sheltered, unexplored life – is that what we want as parents? Places like The Land aim to change this life-lived-in-a-bubble dynamic.”