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!

24 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

  4. Tony Chilton says:

    Simon, Just got round to reading your response/reaction to my previous observations on the authenticity of material written by certain people relating to Adventure Playgrounds. With regard to the content of your Website concerning APs. I do not have any difficulty in accepting your right to express your view etc. but to do so by having it suggested that you are able to present such views from a position of a direct and longstanding personal involvement in the history and development of such provision, was not acceptable. I believe it was perfectly understandable that I, along with a number of other earlier workers in this field, was provoked into feeling more than a little aggrieved, that all our efforts and personal experience should be so rudely and dismissively side-lined and replaced with a perspective that was based on limited knowledge and short term experience. It would have been more supportive of your presentation to have sought direct details and contributions relating to the whole concept of Adventure Playgrounds from those in appropriate experiential positions. Of course you have a right to express your thoughts etc. on any matter you choose, but it needs to be clearly stated that you do so from, as far as APs are concerned at least, a very limited position. I feel very ardently about those who, in the early days of our work, laboured for seven days, (very long days in the spring and summer months, because early pioneers felt they should be available from dawn till dusk!!) a week throughout the year,on very little, and sometimes no pay, in exceedingly difficult circumstances. There were many times we suffered the consequences of physical and verbal abuse from both older kids and parents etc, We had no paid holidays, and certainly no holidays during the summer, no on-site assistance because many of us worked on single staffed sites, no management bodies (until we set them up ourselves), no personal amenities on site, no indoor facilities, (see short publication ” What is An Adventure Playground” first written by me in 1971 then NPFA 1976 ) where we had to scrounge materials, tools and other resources (incidentally, APs. assisted greatly in initiating and developing local play resource centres throughout the country, which in turn led to the creation of the national play resource centre movement) In early days,most APs were established as consequence of a Central Government scheme called Urban Aid where initial capital costs and revenue funding(for 5 years) was provided, through local authorities to voluntary bodies which operated in inner city socially/economically deprived areas.

    I could go on further but I would think the above is sufficient to provide readers with a reasonable amount of information to understand a little more how and why APs. were established. However, for further details, refer to “Adventure Playgrounds –A Brief History” published by Fair Play For Children and “What is an Adventure Playground” available from me as is “Where Can Children Play”

    Tony Chilton

  5. Eddie Nuttall says:

    Hi Tony. I I read Simon’s piece and talked with him at length during the Zurich debacle, which my AP was entrenched in through the early part of the year. Simon DID seek the advice of those currently in ‘experiential positions’ as you put it; I myself have worked on and run APs for 23 years. I am still probably a bit young to recall the APWA meetings, but that original organisation is definitely due a reboot with the precarity of the movement as it currently stands. We here in Bristol have taken tentative steps to consolidating the four remaining APs (and one in it’s infancy) in a mutually supportive lattice post Community Asset Transfer and hope to reach out further once we are more stable. I personally have a strong interest in APs nationally and try to support their continuation and development whenever I am able to.

    I didn’t at all get the impression Simon was ‘sidelining the work of early pioneers’ – I have always considered Simon to be very respectful of the heritage of APs and keen to learn about that heritage. Neither did I feel precious about him carrying out this work at all and to be quite honest I struggle to understand why it has upset you so much.

  6. mickplay says:

    Tony, as one of the now greybeards of adventure playground stuff, though I only started in 1978, I think you’ve been a wee bit unfair to Simon Bazely. In these debates and in trying to sustain the adventure playground movement/model/call it what you will we need all the friends we can get.

    • Tony Chilton says:

      I simply want to ensure that those who struggled and endured considerably harsh and hostile working environments to establish and develop the concept of Adventure Playgrounds very early on, are not overlooked by the claims of others who appear to make various and questionable claims of direct involvement in and a responsibility for such a process. I agree that support needs to be encouraged and enlisted but it also needs to be authentic and comprehensively knowledgeable based on experiential evidence of the original concept.
      Keep up the good work!!!!

      • adrianvoce says:

        Tony, some of us in this organisation remember those conditions and environments very well. When I began my playwork career in 1979, it was very much as you describe; and there are others on our board too, who have more experience than I in the adventure playground movement. It is a diminishing field, however, and we all share your concerns that the playwork concept, and the particular qualities of the adventure playground model, are in danger of being (in some places have already been) hijacked by other agendas. This is why we have come together to create a new vehicle to fight the playwork corner and to protect the playwork ethos, if we can; it is not easy in this climate, and we are glad to have younger playwork champions like Simon working with us on the board as we try to establish it as a sustainable representative body.

  7. Tony Chilton says:

    As someone engaged in the Playwork field, in a wide variety of roles,for over 50years during which I initiated quite a number of significant developments, I would be very interested in learning who it is that you have on your esteemed board. I also wonder and ponder why I, with such a level of direct involvement and therefore in a position to offer another voice of experience, was not invited???!!!!!!

  8. Tony Chilton says:

    Further to this matter. I would wish to add, and I am sure you will all agree, that there is considerable confusion among those not directly associated with the concept of Adventure Playgrounds as we all understand the originality of. There is a variety of provision out there located in pub grounds, leisure parks, theme parks, motorway service stations, zoos, etc. etc. etc. which the are termed as Adventure Playgrounds!!! Clearly when providers of such apply for insurance they are all too often mistakenly referred to as Adventure Playgrounds and added to this is the fact that most manufactures of such timber equipment also advertise it as “Adventure Playground” equipment. I have recently been involved in litigation (as a potential Expert Witness) relating to an accident in a play area, and other parties have referred to it as an AP when it clearly is not. So I would suggest that we still have not done enough to promote the original and continuing intention of such provision to the wider public and others.

    • mickplay says:

      Hi Tony – and all. A bunch of us older (Bob Hughes etc) and newer (Eddie Nuttall etc) folks put together a briefing on the ‘essential elements’ of adventure playgrounds to try to describe what distinguished them from things often called adventure whatevers – your motorway service station and play industry stuff – but clearly weren’t what we understood to be the real thing.
      It was updated after a fairly wide-ranging discussion instigated by London Play – latest version here.
      I’d be interested to hear what you (and others) think of it.

      • Tony Delahoy says:

        Hi Tony
        You asked for comments so I have some.
        The perspective from which comment is as a currently practising adventure playground worker in Devon. I played on APGs in the early 1970s as a kid and became an APG worker in the early 1980s. I have worked on APGs in rural, urban, suburban and inner cities. I’ve worked in England and Scotland mainly.
        I have not worked continously on APGs though.
        I’m a lifelong playworker and have about 35 years experience of working in playgrounds and working as a trainer, assessor and development worker and researcher. All in playwork.
        I’m not telling you this to blow my own trumpet. I just want to be clear on where I’m coming from.
        I thought the document was a pretty good piece of work. Hat’s off to you for it’s production. I bet there were some scorching discussions on that one.
        there are two things I think are missing and would humbly suggest are included in future editions. One is to include the concept of elemental play(earth, air, fire and water) as fundamental to any APG.
        The other is the concept of slow build. In other words taking time to observe how the kids use the space and then develop play structures in response. Over many years.
        I don’t feel that slapping up an APG in three months is effective. Having visited Florence Hayes APG in London. Compared to summer Ford Grove just up the road Florence Hayes lacks a soul!or personality if you know what I mean? Despite the PW team being a lovely bunch of people the site just feels sterile.
        it’s more like a KFC site you’d find on a motorway service station than an APG.
        I also agree with Tony Chiltern’s comments.

  9. Tony Chilton says:

    Having read the matter,I have to say excellently put together, captures all the essential elements. However, perhaps. More should be made of the place for spontaneity as an ingredient of natural play. Maybe this is embraced through reactive/responsive/intuitive/instinctive and so on ……………..! Regards, Tony

  10. mickplay says:

    Tony – many thanks for the kind words re the ‘Essential Elements’ document.
    We were keen to focus on what adventure playgrounds should/could be as environments for play rather than on what play is, difficult as it is to disentangle them.
    A bit like entanglement in quantum physics, where entangled particles remain connected so that actions performed on one affect the other, even when separated by great distances. Albert Einstein hated it: “Spooky action at a distance.”
    But it has since been proved experimentally, and I think there is something there for our thinking about play, playwork and play environments.

    • Tony Chilton says:

      Mick, could you please pass on my apologies to whoever at the Foundation for my aggressive and provocative submissions recently. I am by nature somewhat forthright and combative but over the immediate past, I have been perhaps even more so. I am not making any excuses because that is not my style, but my wife (another ex A Pd. worker) has quite strongly suggested that I have been perhaps too harsh and reactive. However, we have checked with our medical advisor about a new course of tablets that I have been recently introduced to, and because of my age (77) she has suggested that the medicine could certainly have an impact on my and behaviour and attitude. So I have been prescribed something different, (a rope !!!) and hopefully this will help to bring me back to my normal placid, languid and well-measured behaviour!!! Seems to be working already!!!
      Apologies to anyone I have offended but not if I have only upset you!!
      I have to suggest that the forum the Foundation has created, should provide and prove to be something that the Playwork field really needs at this moment in time, an opportunity to work together on promoting and delivering the level of quality and constructive Playwork that children and young people need more than ever in today’s world.
      Best wishes,

      Tony Chilton

    • Tony Delahoy says:

      Hi Mick
      Your mention of entanglements in relation to play and Playwork is very interesting . Stuart has done a fair bit of writing based on the concept and how it applies or could be applied to playwork.I attended a course he delivered at Gloucester Uni called thinking about play based on entanglements and other concepts. Chris Martin is also using it as the basis of his PhD research into how kids use technology on APGs. Sylwyn Guilbaud also talks a lot about quantum physics in her PhD thesis into the played withness of things. I recently attended a workshop of Bob’s and in it he explored the application on of quantum theory to play and Playwork. All very interesting stuff.
      Some years ago I delivered a workshop at the National Playwork Conference on Anarchy and chaos in the playground. It explored the early APG worker consideration of the application of the Anarchism idea to play and Playwork along with the application of quantum theory to playwork. In it Iinked the butterfly effect to affordances, loose parts etc. and leaving some mess and not tidying up after kids. I also suggested that every little thing we do as playworkers in the playground will ripple out and have an impact on the play ecology of the child.
      I also discuss Heisenburgs uncertainty principle and its application to playwork. Lastly I link anarchy and chaos together using Wendy’s BRAWGS continuum.
      I can email you a copy if you’re interested?

  11. mickplay says:

    Tony, I’m long past the days of being upset by you! Seriously though, I think you do owe an apology to Simon Bazley – you were cutting up a bit rough there sometimes.
    I’m pretty sure we’re looking at a general election this year. In these febrile times who knows what the result will be, but I hope it can’t be any worse for children’s services and playwork than the last nine years. We in the playwork field need to be ready to take advantage of what I hope will be a very different government policy and delivery for children.

  12. Tony Delahoy says:

    Hi Guys and Tony Chiltern in Particular. I feel that I alsovowe you an apology for my response to Tony’s post as it may have come across as slightly aggressive, combative and msybe even a little disresprctful?
    Combative is ok. Disrespectful isn’t and it’s not the playwork wsy. So I let myself down on thst one perhaps. It was my intention to be challenging and playful. My language and turn of phrase is still quite a londoner based one becuase that’s hiw I talk. I’m also quite straight and honest and say whst I feel and think. I was merely trying to challenge the post becusdevI felt it was being exckusive and unnaprecistive. I meant no disrespect to Tony or anyone else. So sorry if it csme across thst way . I’ll chosde my words more carefully in future.

  13. raymond wills says:

    Most interesting and enlightening discussion guys. I remember well those earlier meeting of APWA at Notting hill etc and have always admired the work of Tony both in play work and as a very competent and encouraging play course tutor and NPFA regional play officer.. Like Tony i was there in the mid sixties and battled through many play environments relying on my own flair for the work n ability to relate to kids of all ages. I too have took it on the chin in recent times from Tony on my various attempts to tell the story of play particularly from a distance now lol Im no academic historian unlike Tony i can only attempt to write sometimes articles for debates or reflection which folks may find interesting. Tonys articulate ramblings leave me lost for words. Though his humor is profound as i discovered at an interview in Liverpool for a play post in Skelmersdale in the 70s when one of the interviewers presented a extremely minute model of a play structure which in all sense was totally stupid n both myself and Tony thought it highly amusing. Wishing all you guys the very best in play and hope that Tony will forgive me for my intrusion. Ray Wills former play worker

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