MAY PLAY at Mayfield

Children have had the opportunity to design their own playscape for a planned city centre park through a series of collaborative workshops and drop-in sessions. A prototype play structure has been fabricated as a temporary installation at Mayfield, with the hope of influencing the final design of the city park, set at the heart of this redevelopment scheme.

From its earliest stages, developer U+I has put the local people at the heart of the project, and wanted this approach to include the views of children. Making and engagement specialist Standard Practice programmed a series of twelve unique workshops under the name of Playfield. The themes of these workshops ranged from initial concept development through to 3D modelling of specific elements. Consideration was given to materiality, spatial hierarchy, ecology, map-making and branding, with a focus on the combining of shapes and colours. Some of the workshops were designed for sixty children at the nearby Medlock Primary School, whilst others were opened up to neighbouring families and held at Underway, a nomadic project space in the seventh arch of Mayfield. Essentially, the playground was to be ‘designed by children for children’.

Standard Practice called on a range of specialist designers, makers and creatives to help run specific workshops, including those within the wider Planit-IE family. The workshops we became involved in taught the children (and accompanying adults) about all kinds of creativity and urban planning. While setting out with broad aims of each session and initial thoughts on activities, Planit developed an adapted process that emulated the stages of a formal design process.

“We wanted to ensure our sessions were engaging and enjoyable, whilst generating outputs that could be feasibly incorporated into the future design of the playscape.” Jack, Landscape Architect, Planit

Each workshop ran smoothly onto the next, allowing all involved to get a real feel for the process and the roles involved in the building of a prototype. Having explored initial ideas of the equipment children would like in the playground, we ran ‘Rapid Prototyping’ which gave the freedom for those explorations to be developed through physical modelling. Planit designed a bespoke kit of generic elements which were combined in a wide variety of compositions by the youngsters on the day. This allowed the children to be bold and creative, resulting in a huge variety of very original concepts, which were recorded and carried through as a basis for subsequent sessions.

‘Masterplanning’, ran by a couple of Landscape Architects from Planit, built on ideas yet again, but this time considered scale and layout. In groups, a 3x3m square taped out on the floor, made of paper and string, formed the base of the children’s map. They were then asked to experiment with layouts of the equipment before recording their ideas on paper.

“This exercise helped them combine their ideas into one space, explore the potential scale of the equipment and start to consider how they wanted it to look visually”. Hilary, Graduate Landscape Architect, Planit

Having been involved in the photography documentation of Playfield at Underway, Fiona, Content Creator at Planit, collaborated with Dave Sedgwick designer and director of Studio DBD to run the final workshop, ‘Graphic Design’. After an introduction to branding, recognition of everyday logos and famous personalities, importance of different shapes and connotations of colour; the children were asked to experiment with a collection of mis-matched stencils to create their own mark that resembled the playground.

“We reassured them their creativity and imagination enabled no right answer. As the children explored a variety of different names for their new space, you could hear their excitement and what this project really meant to them”. Fiona, Content Creator, Planit

Bringing together all their ideas, they were then given the opportunity to create an invitation or poster to advertise the opening day. Dave was amazed by the children’s knowledge of different logos, brand and the messages behind them, “for me it was great to see the beginnings of initial ideas starting to develop even at such a young age and to see how excited and passionate they were in trying to bring those ideas to life for the playground”.

Standard Practice found the three main themes that reappeared through the workshops were ‘journeys, imaginative play and shelter’. As the project development, the children gained a better understanding of the design process and take real ownership as part of the Mayfield story.

The playground opened on Wednesday 12th June.

“Playfield has been a fascinating project for us from start to finish. It’s easy for us to say cities are for everyone but then to assume the needs of many, including children – this project has allowed us to sit down with the users of the final playground and ask them directly, ‘What do you want to see here at Mayfield?’ The final prototype truly reflects their imagination and ambition, and we hope this whole experience has helped them feel part of their city.” Jess, Project Manager, Standard Practice

Once the workshops were complete, Tim Denton Ltd took to the drawing board to combine all ideas and constructed a playscape where children could build their own adventure while climbing and hiding through the power of imagination. Working with Cave Studio, Tim was able to replicate the unpredictable scribbles and coloured shapes to form flags that sat on the top of the abstractly placed materials. This unique structure, MAY PLAY – a name combining its what and where – is now open for all at the back of GRUB, tucked behind the former station and depot off Fairfield Street in the Mayfield development.

Mayfield is a 12 hectare former rail depot extending from Piccadilly Station to the River Medlock. Its regeneration is being taken forward by The Mayfield Partnership, a public private joint venture partnership bringing together LCR, Manchester City Council, Transport for Greater Manchester and developer U+I.

Written by Fiona Finchett, Content Creator