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Best Adventure Playgrounds in London Picked by a Passionate Playworker

Best Adventure Playgrounds in London Picked by a Passionate Playworker

Adventure playgrounds in London can get less hype than jazzy new play areas but they are worth your time exploring and we have the perfect person to explain why. You’ll be hard pressed to find someone who cares so deeply for the ability for all kids to experience free, creative, adventurous play as Kerri Burton. Many of you will follow her on Insta, enjoying the brilliant photos she shares of her son leaping off tall structures, building dens and covering himself in paint. Basically living his best life.

We spoke with Kerri to find out why adventure playgrounds are so important and which ones are her favourites! This interview will be in two parts as she had so many interesting points to share.

Please introduce yourself…

I’m Kerri, I’ve been a playworker for 15 years working at different settings including adventure playgrounds. I live in Islington and spend a lot of time exploring playful places in the city with my five year old son. I’m currently completing my Masters in Childhood and Youth as well as working for the wonderful Assemble Play and co-running my own community play project Make-Do Play.


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How would you define ‘adventure playground’ and why are they important?

Adventure playgrounds – originally called junk playgrounds – were born in Denmark during the second world war when architect Carl Sorensen realised that children enjoyed playing in bombsites and junkyards more than ready-made play areas. The idea was brought to the UK by Marjorie Allen, at one point in the 1970s there were over 150 in London and many that survive today have been going since then. They are traditionally full of junk materials and loose parts – that is, open ended objects that can be played with in any number of ways – and any structures are built by the children themselves.

It is much rarer these days to see an adventure playground built completely by the children, but they do have input and involvement in the playground’s creation and structures tend to be made from salvaged materials and can be added to and adapted.

Most importantly, an adventure playground is staffed by playworkers. It is their role not to direct activities but to facilitate a space that offers children a multitude of play opportunities. They are led by the playwork principles which declare that “children and young people determine and control the content and intent of their play, by following their own instincts, ideas and interests, in their own way for their own reasons.”


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Usually children 6+ (sometimes 8+) can attend alone and the playground may be an adult-free space or allow families at certain times. Frustratingly the term ‘adventure playground’ has been misused a lot recently by playground designers and big expensive family attractions to describe any fixed pre-designed play equipment that’s big and risky and made of wood, and that’s completely missing the point.

Firstly, adventure playgrounds are always free to access. And while they definitely do encourage children to take risks they’re so much more than the structures. In fact structures aren’t even necessary. It’s about the staff, it’s about children having agency in their play and ownership over the space. And it’s not just about loud risky play. Many have art and crafts, dressing up clothes, musical instruments.

One child told me recently that the reason her adventure playground is better than a normal playground is that they have paper and colouring pens so she can sit and draw. These spaces are invaluable to so many children and their families, especially those who have no outside space of their own, are unable to access expensive activities, or who live in areas where they may not feel comfortable letting their children out to play alone.

Many older children and teenagers (especially from marginalised communities) benefit from them as they are adultified or made to feel unwelcome in other playgrounds. It’s also crucial in a time when so many activities for children are incredibly structured or geared towards adult determined goals, that empowering spaces exist whose sole purpose is for children to be able to do whatever they want.


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What are your top 5 favourite adventure playgrounds in London and what do you love about them?

Oh this is really difficult! We’ve visited over 30 and on any given day I’d probably give you a completely different answer. I love Somerford Grove in Tottenham, run by Haringey Play Association. There’s such a welcoming atmosphere and the playworkers are really passionate about building new things with the children – every time we go the space has changed somehow. There’s something for all ages – from the little boat next to a sandpit full of toy diggers, to the gargantuan slide that I’ll admit I’m a bit scared to go down! They also run the SisterHood Project – a girls only session.

Triangle Adventure Playground in Lambeth is the smallest in London and also one of the oldest, having been established in 1957. Despite its size it has so much going on as the children and playworkers make such good use of their great collection of loose parts – riding in shopping trolleys tied to the zipwire, making giant marble runs, having tug of wars in go-karts, or attaching wheels to playhouses. And they’ve still managed to carve out space for a garden where they grow food with the children.

From the smallest to one of the biggest, Hackney Marsh was one of our favourite places to go to with friends when my son was a toddler (although sadly they no longer allow families in) because they loved the sand and water area which has rock slopes to climb, taps to make waterfalls, pipes, sand toys and playhouses around the edges. As well as this the playground has an abundance of quirky structures both big and small, a boat, grassy space to roam, secluded wild areas, lots of loose parts, a soft-play room inside – it basically has it all.


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Nearby Homerton Grove is a beautiful adventure playground with a water slide which is predictably very popular in the summer, big sandpit, mud kitchen, playhouse, an old black cab the kids can climb inside, zipline, lots of crates and a big climbing structure. There’s a great vibe, families are made very welcome and there’s usually art and craft activities set up outside. It’s run by Hackney Play Association along with Pearson Street Adventure Playground, which is also great.

I’m going to cheat with the last one and mention both Three Corners in Clerkenwell and Evergreen in Dalston, as they each have really awesome net towers which we adults love to visit as much as our kids, despite the fact it’s a bit of a work-out and pretty embarrassing when we inevitably get stuck in the nets as children look on pityingly. People spend a lot of money on visiting these sort of structures in fancy adventure parks, yet here they are for free, which is brilliant.


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I realise there’s a lot of East London on this list, but I promise I’m not neglecting the rest of the city, it just really is a bit of a postcode lottery when it comes to adventure playgrounds, and a lot rests on how supportive the borough is. Islington and Hackney both have incredible adventure playground provision, whereas West London for example has next to none, as most have been closed down.

> RELATED CONTENT: Best London Playground Picks by Bablands

Are there any in particular that are well suited for disabled or neurodivergent children?

We love the Markfield Project in Haringey. The adventure playground is part of a community centre which offers services to disabled and autistic young people and their families. Their Saturday play sessions are great because they’re truly inclusive and open to everybody, and they also have an under 5s stay and play in the week. The play structures are largely wheelchair accessible and they always have lots of activities on offer such as messy play and woodwork.

There are organisations with adventure playgrounds that specifically provide one-to-one support to disabled children and respite for their adults such as KIDS and Oasis Play (who also have a wonderful nature garden which runs under 5s and family sessions). But really all adventure playgrounds should be properly inclusive, it’s so maddening when I go somewhere and there’s not a single thing that’s accessible (This is the case with fixed equipment playgrounds too).

I worry that some might feel they don’t need to put the effort in because they think “well disabled kids can go to a specialist one” or they’ve forgotten to even consider them. They’re just letting down a whole group of children.


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Lollard Adventure Playground in Lambeth is an incredible space and also a good example of a playground that has considered accessibility as its impressive structure includes sloped access as well as more challenging routes up. And of course accessibility is about a lot more than wheelchairs.

Playgrounds with lots of sensory elements such as sand, water and wild areas can cater really well to some autistic children. Shakespeare Walk Adventure Playground in Stoke Newington has a wonderful large sandpit area full of loose parts and water play.

Evergreen runs an inclusion project and provides staff to support disabled children to access their main play provision. I would stress that really it all comes down to attitudes. A space can be built with all the latest inclusive equipment but this means nothing unless staff also fully embrace neurodiversity.

COMING SOON: Part 2 of this interview about Adventure Playgrounds in London with Kerri.

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