A group of Cardiff Metropolitan University students re-energised a tired un-used outdoor concrete space on the university campus and transformed it into a colourful outdoor play, learning and teaching space. The ‘Forest of Plinths’ project emerged from a brief, which called for the creative design of storage of loose parts to support children’s play. It was officially opened on Global School Play Day (1 February 2017) with children from three local primary schools attending a lunchtime play and storytelling session.

The team of students from Cardiff School of Art and Design (CSAD) volunteered their time to carry out the project and transform the space. The space will provide significant benefits for students studying Early Childhood Studies (ECS) and Primary Education Studies as it offers an additional space to host workshops with students, teachers, school pupils and the local community.

For inspiration and an opportunity to extend the learning and experience of the students involved, students from the CSAD and ECS programme visited a play resource centre for loose parts, as well as primary schools and adventure playgrounds across Wales to observe loose parts play in practice.

The space was entirely re-designed by the students on a modest budget; a truly collaborative project with CSE, CSAD, the university’s estates department, campus services, three local primary schools and Play Wales working together. All items included in the space, such as the story making cabinets and loose parts play boxes were designed and hand-made.

Senior Lecturer Chantelle Haughton commented on the success of the new colourful space, ‘Our aim with Outdoor Play and Learning is to offer the ideal environment to maximise learning; to explore issues, such as the value and challenges of play and learning; to nurture new skills and ultimately for all of this to be done through working with lively innovative practice maximising the use of the outdoors. This space allows us to showcase that playing can be supported even in the most barren of spaces. We are pleased to be able to provide opportunities to showcase good practice for making the most of small, concrete, “unusable” spaces to create magical play environments.’

CSAD student, Alice Croot, who coordinated the design element of the project and installation added, ‘Being involved in the first collaboration with CSAD and CSE was very exciting. In the team of seven there was a maker, product designer, ceramicists and illustrators. Having a diverse mix of practitioners meant we could learn from each other and it led to diverse creative decisions. Personally, the project was a big turning point for me and how I work. Since the completion of the project, I have been to visit the patch when it's being used by students as well as primary school children. The concrete patch has been re-energised to create a fun creative outdoor learning area that encourages creativity for all ages.’