There are times when local governments are able to garner funding outside of their municipal budget envelopes to fulfil planning and development ‘wish lists’. When the City of Surrey received funding from Canadian Tire’s Jumpstart program they were able to unleash the development of a unique, inclusive and accessible playground that not only provided a new park space to the community, but also augmented and improved an existing one.
Built within the community of Newton, Unwin’s Playground is a 12,000 square foot picturesque play space intentionally designed to be an imaginative, inclusive, and accessible space that provides children with physical, sensory, and cognitive challenges an environment that promotes well-being and collaborative play.
For years the community surrounding Unwin Park had expressed interest in ensuring the public amenities available in the park were more inclusive for people of all ages and abilities. In fact, inclusion and access were also identified as priorities in Surrey’s overall Parks, Recreation & Culture Strategic Plan (2018 to 2027).
Unwin Park’s amenities had been used heavily by the surrounding communities for decades. The park is home to ball diamonds, soccer fields, lacrosse boxes, a basketball court, a water playground, a general playground, an outdoor pool, a cricket batting practice area, picnic facilities and a fieldhouse with washrooms and changerooms. While regular on-going maintenance had kept these amenities in good repair for public use, some, including the general playground, were moving quickly toward the end of their lifespan.
In 2018, the City of Surrey launched an extensive consultation process surrounding proposed upgrades to the playground area of the park, the centrepiece of which would be a large inclusive play space within the park to be built in partnership with Canadian Tire Jumpstart Charities. It would be known as the Jumpstart Playground. The process was met with strong support from the community, propelling forward a massive park clean up and kicking off construction of the project.
In addition to replacing the exiting, aging playground, the project had given birth to the new Jumpstart Playground, which now sets the standard for playground inclusivity as a destination for kids of all abilities. This 12,000 square foot playground within Unwin Park includes accessible features and play components with transfer platforms, all connected by a double wide accessible ramp system to accommodate wheelchair users or parents with strollers. It includes imaginative and accessible spaces that give children with physical, sensory, and cognitive disabilities an environment that promotes well-being and collaborative play where children of all abilities can share in the magic of play.
Some of the unique features include braille and sign language panels, a merry-go-round designed for wheeled mobility devices, slides with transfer benches to allow children to slide with their peers and easily transfer themselves from the slide to their mobility device, and other supportive and engaging playground apparatuses.
The location of the Jumpstart Playground also provides clear site-lines to and from other park amenities allowing for family members of all ages to participate in various park activities while maintaining visual connections with each other. In addition to the playground which was specifically designed to be inclusive, other barriers and curbs were removed and grade changes were made to improve accessibility and movement from the playground to the water park which, although several years older, was already an accessible area.
Additional amenities near the playground were also added to improve usability and accessibility for older adults, including strategically located benches as rest areas and the placement of covered picnic shelters. The covered picnic shelters are now very popular areas to meet and socialize for groups and families no matter the weather.
In order to make room for the Jumpstart Playground within the park and fit all of the envisioned inclusive play elements within it, the City of Surrey undertook an extensive tree relocation program, moving a number of very large mature maples to make room for the playground and relocated the trees nearby to provide shade adjacent to the play area.
With the Jumpstart Playground and park upgrades complete, Unwin Park now fulfills a wide variety of outdoor recreation and social needs for all ages within the surrounding communities.
Although Unwin Park is classified as a community-level park, it has become a destination-level park, attracting residents from across the entire City of Surrey throughout the entire week. In fact, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Unwin Park and the Jumpstart Inclusive Playground has even acted as a family destination for stay-at-home vacations.
“The Jumpstart playground has definitely created a very positive environment and has played a role in connecting the community more by being a central location where families and friends can meet up and play together, in return creating a sense of community connection. I see a lot more parents and adults genuinely enjoying the playground now and playing with their children rather than sitting and watching from the sides. Due to massive visitor presence from mornings to late evenings, especially during the summer months, it has helped deter any loitering, criminal activity, and vandalism. The local community feels a sense of pride and responsibility to take care of and watch over the park, and it seems everyone has stepped up and are very vigilant to ensure that the playground and park facilities are not vandalized.”- Tara Gill, Neighbour, Soccer Coach, and Unwin Park Area Block Watch Captain
Unwin Park and the Jumpstart Inclusive Playground has now simply become a part of daily life in the area, setting the standard for inclusive play in British Columbia and around the world.
For more information about Unwin Park and the Jumpstart Playground, read the Playground Guide, contact Neal Aven at the City of Surrey or come visit Unwin Park to experience this unique park yourself.
About the Author:
Neal Aven is the manager of parks at the City of Surrey, leading a team of 200+ staff in the delivery of the full range of parks services from long range planning and strategic land acquisition to design and construction and operations and maintenance. Neal has a Forestry degree specialized in Natural Resources Conservation from the University of British Columbia. He also has a diploma in Landscape Design from Kwantlen Polytechnic University and a graduate diploma in Business Administration from Simon Fraser University. He is an ISA (International Society of Arboriculture) Certified Arborist and Municipal Specialist, an active member of both the ISA and the Society of Municipal Arborists (SMA) and is a Board Director of British Columbia Recreation and Parks Association (BCRPA) for the 2021-2023 term.
The Unwin Park and Jumpstart Playground project was awarded BCRPA’s 2021 Provincial Award for Parks Excellence.
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