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)
STRIFE : ‘Claims culture’ could force mass closure of playparks as insurer
Zurich ‘threatens to end cover’
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.
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 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!