Andrew MacDermott, Head of Development

Play has been a fundamental part of visiting Ferry Meadows for the last 40 years. It’s also important in visits to parks the world over. One of the most popular reasons to visit parks is to take children to play and this is true across many cultural groups. Over the years at Nene Park this has included a variety of permutations from the homemade pirate ship on the mound near Lynch Lake to more off-the-peg play that replaced this approach in the 90s. In 2012 the existing play areas were getting tired and rather than replace like-for-like, a new approach was considered. It was at this point, working with TouchWood and Davies White, that a new play trail connecting the play with an emerging movement of nature playscapes was conceived. This was to focus on reimagining the three existing play areas and connecting them with incidental playful pieces around the Park.

This new approach was first trialled with a range of timber play pieces set up near the Visitor Centre and a range of workshop sessions with local children and families. This equipment stayed in place whilst the first new play area, Otter Play, was built in 2012. Some of this trail equipment can still be found near its first location including the timber tunnel, oak slouching seats and the sun dial.

Following this, Badger Play was completed in 2015. Both of these play areas replaced pre-existing smaller play areas with new natured-themed play. Otter aimed at younger children and Badger at slightly older. This left the Lakeside play area as the only one of the older style play areas awaiting improvement (pictured).

During 2015, the Trust undertook the development of a new 30 year Master Plan for the Park and continuing to improve play across the Park is an important element of this plan. As such, plans for the third play area were cemented and development of designs for Fox Play commenced in 2018. Supported by the same Landscape Architects, Davies White, who worked on both Otter Play and Badger Play, and have since continued to develop their nature play spaces across a number of sites nationally, we built on feedback from the current popular play areas and our learning of managing them, to develop the new concept for the latest edition.

The design underwent a process of feedback and development with review from members of the Trust team and a public display of a handmade model at the Discover Ferry Meadows event in 2019. The model was then on show in the Visitor Centre for several months following this, from which we received a great deal of very useful and supportive feedback.

Along the way we have given considerable thought to whether the play area is fenced (as is traditional) or open to the surrounding environment.  At Badger play we did not fence the play equipment, which was met with mixed views.  The feedback from those who have enjoyed playing in the surrounding woods and the limited issues we have found have encouraged us to follow the same approach with Fox Play.  Not only does this connect the play with the wider landscape to enrich the experience for children; it also helps manage demand, as rather than crowd people within a fence, it enables play to naturally spread out as the area gets busier. 

We also spend a lot of time at the Trust considering how accessible the Park is to a range of users and to this end have been keen to include features within this play area to broaden this.  Whilst ensuring the play will be challenging and enjoyable for older children (as was asked for), features are included within the design such as accessible paths throughout, a water pump which can be activated easily from a seated position by hand and a wobbly bridge feature suitable for wheelchairs.


The design for our largest play space to date was then finalised and the required planning application submitted in early 2020. This planning application process included detailed information on all aspects of the design, including equipment, materials, protection of trees, ecology and potential archaeology.

With a project such as this we aspire to create something really high quality and special for the Park and with that comes an ambitious design and significant cost. We have also seen an ongoing increase in visitors to the Park as the city grows and more people become aware of Nene Park and its facilities. As play has such a valuable contribution to our visitors, particularly our children and young adults, there are a range of sources of funding to support such projects and in tandem with the planning application we then set out to source the funding to make the project a reality. We were very grateful to receive funding from FCC and Viridor Credits to support this project, with a significant sum also coming from the Trust’s funds.


The construction process now begins this week and will continue throughout the summer 2021.  As I write, the fencing is being erected on site and over the next few weeks the old equipment will be removed ahead of the new site levels being established.  The water play will be installed first followed by other equipment, pathways and planting.  It will be an exciting time watching the new play space emerge and we will be posting regular updates on social media.  I can’t wait to see the space being enjoyed upon opening!

To find out more about the project and to see regular updates, please go to our project page.