Are adventure playgrounds really under threat from a risk-averse insurance industry?

Tiverton adventure playground, Devon

Simon Bazley, after taking the temperature of this week’s media flurry about insurance companies and adventure playgrounds, decided to do a little bit of his own investigative journalism. He discovered that the picture is not exactly as described by some illustrious newspapers, and suggests that the more serious threats lie elsewhere.

A couple of weeks ago, around 14th January, I learned through social media that Felix Road Adventure Playground in Bristol had been advised, in the words of its manager, Eddie Nutall, that “adventure playgrounds were not economically viable to them anymore … good luck, and sorry.” 

Upon hearing this, I was naturally concerned about the implications for other adventure playgrounds across the UK and I decided to do some digging, getting in touch with some of my own contacts within the insurance industry.  In short, they said “what are you worrying about? It’s only one insurer and there are many others; just speak to a broker”. 

These contacts, quite senior people in the industry, went on to suggest that it is quite normal for an insurance provider to change their emphasis within various portfolios but that, as one company leaves the market, it provides opportunities for others to compete for the business.  

The Times and the Sun

Fast forward two weeks, and I, like many of us in our field, was a little shocked to read the Times’ and Suns’ versions of events.

“Adventure playgrounds in danger of mass closure after insurer Zurich pulls out”? (The Times)

PARK STRIFE : ‘Claims culture’ could force mass closure of playparks as insurer Zurich ‘threatens to end cover’
(The Sun)

These headlines, which appeared on Monday this week, made me sit up and take more notice than I usually do of certain mainstream media. But are they factually correct?  If so, then our sector has a serious problem, a sentiment manifest in the waves anxiety sweeping across social media all week. ‘Is this the final nail in our coffin?’ was one typical comment.


The trigger for this panic has surely been the Times’ assertion that Zurich, until now, was ‘the only insurer willing to back (adventure playgrounds)’. But my initial enquiries suggested this was not true, and so let’s take a closer look.

Speaking to a friend and colleague yesterday, I learned that the oldest adventure playground in Wales, Wrexham’s The Venture, was insured by Royal Sun Alliance (RSA), not Zurich. RSA also insures my own work as a self-employed playworker and play consultant. 

Further investigation, via my insurance broker, Keegan and Pennykid in Edinburgh, provided more evidence that the problem has been exaggerated, to say the least.  They advised me that they have a number of adventure playgrounds as clients and have successfully negotiated policies for them via RSA and Aviva, two of the largest insurance providers in the UK. According to Keegan and Pennykid, other companies are also amenable.

Bigger picture

From just a little research, it is clear that The Times story is inaccurate. Of course, we need to try and ascertain the bigger picture, and I would encourage all adventure playgrounds to respond to a survey that has been issued by London Play (see below). I am currently trying to find out who insures the other three adventure playgrounds still remaining in Wales and will feed this into the gathering evidence base.

Hopefully, a concerted and collaborative bit of data gathering will tell us whether or not adventure playgrounds across the UK can, in general, get reasonable insurance, with fair terms and conditions at a reasonable price. If not, then, as a playwork sector, we may indeed have a problem.

If, on the other hand, the answer is yes, albeit that some playgrounds may be now looking for new cover, then perhaps we can use this current attention on our work to highlight our value, collaborate on good practice and workable solutions; and maybe even strike some better deals with the insurance industry.

There is more than one meaning to the term ‘a good risk’!

Simon Bazley

Simon Bazley is the CEO of Playful Futures and a trustee of the Playwork Foundation.

London Play has asked for help in collecting some information about insurance and adventure playgrounds. If you run, work for or volunteer at an adventure playground anywhere in the country please complete the survey at the link below soon as possible. Thank you!

6 thoughts on “Are adventure playgrounds really under threat from a risk-averse insurance industry?

  1. mickplay says:

    Yes I think there has been a bit of a media headline shout Simon.
    About thirty years ago there was a similar panic (but little or no media coverage) when Morton Michel started turning down AP insurance renewals. Who stepped in to fill the gap? Zurich!
    With luck loads of adventure playgrounds will complete the London Play/Play England SurveyMonkey and we’ll get a picture of what is actually happening. I’m emailing all the ones I’ve got contacts for asking them to do so.

  2. PlayGroundology says:

    Thanks for this update. I have posted on the PlayGroundology FB. Well hopefully this turns out to be good news. Appreciate you digging a bit deeper to investigate. Cheers, Alex

  3. Tony Chilton says:

    Simon, Can I politely ask, what is the extent of your experience and expertise with regard to to the original and operational ethos of Adventure Playgrounds? I have been directly involved in their early developments and indeed their initial objectives and I have to repeat an observation that I have made previously about “experiential assessments” such as those made by others and yourself.Just what is the extent of your direct involvement in Adventure Playgrounds? And how authentic and authoritative can your comments be received?
    As the initiator of the APWA (Adventure playground Workerkers Association) which brought together A P workers from all around the UK , I cannot recall you being-associated. So could you please inform me of how, when and where you were actively involved?.!

    were you DIRECTLY associated with the Adventure Playground movement and what gives you the assumption that you can present yourself as someone as an experienced and knowledgeable expert relating to the concept of Adventure Playgrounds ???
    Please, please supply a truly evidential account of your direct experience which contains details of the Adventure Playgrounds you have actually worked on and for how long. I am really wanting to learn how I overlooked your contribution to the development of A Ps when I initiated the organisation of the APWA. Really and truly desperate for your reply!!!!!!

    Many thanks!

    Tony Chilton


    • Simon Bazley says:

      Hi Tony, Long time no see. This is all rather confusing. Bizarrely it was you who inspired me to get involved in Playwork in the first place. It was quite a long time ago, from memory maybe about 2002? It was certainly in Flint Leisure Centre, at a talk you gave to the summer seasonal staff for the local authority. You were inspirational.

      I don’t claim to be anything other than who I am. I don’t claim my experience or voice to be more ‘authoritative’ or ‘authentic’ than others. I don’t think I like the suggestion that one needs a certain minimum qualification, position, or years of experience before having a valid voice.

      I am but one of many trustees of the Playwork Foundation and I thought that as such I should assist with content on our website and this subject was on my mind. When I saw the original Times article, I found it to be factually inaccurate and saw other colleagues sharing it as if it was the ‘nail in the coffin for AP’s’. I then chose to spend my free time pulling together an article as I thought it may be of use to the broader playwork sector (regardless of the type of setting). I wrote it to help and never considered that others may think I was not qualified to share my own thoughts on such matters.

      Simon Bazley

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