To fence or not to fence? That is the question…

When communities are improving their play area, the natural assumption is often still to fence the play area in.  There is a general acceptance that a fence is the right thing to do—after all, this keeps dogs out, and children in—so what could be easier? Parents can visit the park safe in the knowledge that their children are less likely to run off and that they don’t have to be concerned about treading in dog mess, or worse, being confronted by a scary dog.

These concerns are valid ones, and should not be underestimated. Clearly a local community group knows their community issues, and dog fouling may be a persistent problem. However, the issue of whether to fence a play area in is not as cut and dried as that.

It is obvious that there are situations where a fence is by far the best option. If a play area is sited next to a busy road, for example, then a fence might be vital; in this situation, don’t forget too that your self-closing gate should open inwards, to give time to slow an escaping child down before they run out on to the road.

It is also true that for some children with special needs, a fence is also important. Carers are able to take the children to the park, knowing that they are able to run around in safety.

In a rural setting, where the play area is often in a corner of the local playing field, however, playing field managers should strongly consider whether there really is a need for a fence. There is no legal requirement to fence the play area in. Often the play area opens on to a beautiful playing field. No fence encourages the children to treat the whole area as their own, and not just to have the perception that they are only allowed to play within the confines of the fence. No fence enables the children to have the freedom to run around more, and to use their imaginations for play beyond the specific play equipment.  With today’s health concerns over obesity and the need to encourage more young people to get out on our playing fields, this can only be a positive thing.

In an article for Play and Activity Today, Paul Collings, Director of Timberplay makes the case for no fencing: ‘The bizarre thing is that most play areas exist in parks which also have playing fields. The children are encouraged to play ball games on the fields, sliding around and getting muddy, but these fields are outside the magic fence and so dogs can run freely on them and defecate at will. How can we reconcile this laissez-faire approach outside the playground with the need for a sterile, highly protected dog free playground?’

The cost and maintenance of fencing should also not be underestimated. Fencing will be inspected as part of the play area inspection, and will need to be maintained just like any other piece of equipment on the play area. There is a cost associated with this, and with the installation of the fence. That money could be used for more play equipment.

If there really is a need for a fence, it may be worth considering a more informal barrier such as grass mounds. You could consider just fencing the part that adjoins with the road, or the car park and not fencing the whole play area in. In Combe in Oxfordshire, the side of the play area that adjoins the road is behind a wall, but the side of the play area that adjoins the playing field is open. You could also consider just fencing the toddler area in, such as in Steeple Aston in Oxfordshire , below. The rest of the play area is open.

Local knowledge of the site, the surrounding area and how they are used is vital.

In the scenario that you do need a fence, we suggest that you do not skimp on price. Like anything, you get what you pay for, and a better quality fence will require less maintenance costs over the long term.  There are various options for the type of fence that you should install. You could also consider a dog grid, to deter dogs from entering the play area.

For more information, please ask your local CPFA for a copy of our information sheet on Playground Fencing.

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