Julie Andrews seeks high-rise thrills at the Thames Valley Adventure Playground.
When your day begins encircled in a squealing sea of excited children, you know you are in for some ‘fun’.
Teaming through the doors, youngsters already familiar with the park, headed straight for their favourite spaces, with the newbie’s choosing to quietly admire the very huggable six-foot beefeater teddy bear greeting them as they entered.
At new heights
The reluctant Sun remained hidden behind a dark, moody cloud that morning but this didn’t stop us heading straight outside to climb the ‘Walkway’ – 125 metres long, rising gently to a height of two metres, it’s the perfect place to view the playground.
Fully accessible to absolutely everyone, its interactive features incorporate games and tactile panels all along the enclosed pathways. Whizzing my wheels to the top, I was so busy waving at the children below that I hadn’t noticed my wheels reach the specially designed wobbly bridge. Buckeroo-ing my way up and over the seemingly straight path, I was so shocked, I shouted to the people behind me that I thought the path might be broken. “It’s not broken silly it’s the ‘wobbly bridge’, it’s meant to wobble like that!” “Oh!” was all I could offer in apology to the hands on hips, disgruntled child, putting me firmly in my place. Watching the reactions of other bridge walkers, I smiled at the ingeniousness of it and of the complete delight it brought to ‘every’ unsuspecting group of feet and wheels passing over it.
The walkway eventually leads to the sand and water play area. With its interactive water shoots and troughs, much loud excitable action was taking place here. For children unable to play directly on the sand, water cannons and sand cranes were being played with straight from their wheelchairs.
The music garden was next. With huge oil drums, sound pipes, bells, clangers and gongs to play with, every single child was in their musical element. A gutsy jam session was in full swing and I quickly joined in on the drums. A truly smashing time ensued even when my band members eventually drifted off to play elsewhere, I drummed on with delightful abandon. Eventually handing the drumsticks on to the next musical maestro, I bowed a thank you when she said, quite perceptively: “You’re very silly, aren’t you? But I like you, ok?” I was very OK, for as far as the eyes could see, everyone, everywhere, was having an absolute blast.
‘All’ children should be able to take the opportunity to explore, climb trees, go to the park and have unlimited fun, for granted. For many people with special needs, this can be impossible but at Thames Valley, they have skilfully created multiple play zones where anyone with different needs can discover adventure in a completely enthralling and safe environment. And it’s a place where specially trained staff, are also on hand to provide help support whenever it’s needed.
Lunchtime began in the aptly named gold annexe. Everywhere you look in this treasure trove of a room provides a sensory feast. The rainbow bright colours of the dressing up area, the walls emblazoned with children’s creativity and most magically, the Sun rippled light fest, sparkling up from the lake. From its sensory room, specially designed music space, to the multi skills art and craft area, imagination is encouraged into a full and vibrant reality here.
The afternoon session was in full swing now, children racing off to their next play dates, with parents and carers hot on their heels (and wheels). Many of us headed straight for the tree top trail, a 100 metre enclosed walkway, gradually ascending higher until you are able to touch the tree leaves in Wacky Woods. This new addition to the Playground is a massive hit with every explorer. It is exhilarating to be able to roll right up into the trees and be able to look down on the very real and very wacky wilderness beneath you.
Back inside, I was in demand. From train set adventures, teenage chase games, to superhero action, where Shaun the Sheep fought Captain America, I was ‘it’. A tiny tot rode suddenly past me on a mighty horse on wheels, stopping me suddenly in my playtime tracks! This really is a unique play park, a place where children can come to be children and parents and carers are comfortable that fair, enlightening play is guaranteed for everyone.
Before leaving, I spotted Snow White and just had to get her photograph. Snow White, (aka Ella), a playful darling of a girl, was enthralled to be in the limelight, offering her best princess twirls with glee. Openly stunned, her mum and big sister sat in silent awe, not daring to breath or move a muscle, lest the moment should end and the dancing princess should revert to her normally camera-shy self. This is a place where great changes happen, a play space where everyone is encouraged to grow at their own pace. Ella’s mum says she feels a massive sense of belonging here; a relief compared to some of the hurtful experiences she has been subjected to at some other public play parks. Here, Ella is free to be herself and for the first time, her mum feels she can relax, sit back and enjoy her daughter being the very beautiful, lively, fun child she was born to be!
When thoughts turn to great places to take your children this summer, visit Thames Valley Adventure Playground and be astounded at just where your child’s imagination will lead them.
The park is open from Tuesday to Saturday all year round for all children with special needs with Fridays reserved for adults with special needs. Integrated play days run on every Saturday throughout the year when the park is open to all children 12 and under.
Booking is advisable.
Tel: 01628 628599
Thames Valley Adventure Playground