Making Play Accessible to All: Gujaga Park

It’s no secret that play is important for children. It builds imagination and creativity, encourages independence and risk management, and fosters social skills and cognitive growth. But while play is essential to all children, it hasn’t always been inclusive of all children.

At Lark Industries, we are committed to changing this and fortunately we’re not alone. Recently, we had the opportunity to collaborate with DesignInc and Ertech on the new inclusive Gujaga Park in Rockdale delivered by Transport for NSW and the M6 Stage 1 project.

Gujaga Park, which features a giant all-abilities playground as well as a skatepark and adult and senior exercise area, has been designed to cater to all community members.

The park was part of a larger $30 million project that included the construction of two recreational facilities, Gujaga Park and the new Brighton Memorial Playing Fields at Brighton-le-Sands, to offset the impact of the M6 Stage 1 project on the Bayside area. Importantly, the parks were built before the construction of the Motorway so the community has access to new facilities now.

Michelle Herbut, Senior Business Development Manager for Lark Industries and Project Manager on Gujaga Park said creating an inclusive play area was a key part of the project brief and something the entire project team was passionate about.

“We all wanted the end project to be something that everyone, regardless of age or ability, could come together and enjoy. It’s why we designed the playground to include a 38-metre long wheelchair-accessible ramp as well as a balancing combination unit and plenty of ground-level play elements. There are also more challenging areas with a 9m high custom climbing tower with two tube slides as well as the skatepark and adult and senior fitness equipment.” Herbut said.

Matthew Dawson, Project Manager from Transport for NSW who oversaw the construction of the new facilities said the vision for the new recreational facilities was to create a positive and lasting impact for everyone in the community.

“This is the new way of doing projects at Transport for NSW. With the construction of the M6 Stage 1 impacting existing community recreational facilities, we saw the development of Gujaga Park in Rockdale and the new Brighton Memorial Playing Fields at Brighton-le-Sands as an opportunity to create new and much-loved spaces within the community and leave a lifelong legacy from the M6 Stage 1 project.” Dawson said.

He continued, “As a transport authority, we didn’t have a lot of experience in creating inclusive playgrounds, so it was great to work with Lark Industries. Having their knowledge embedded into our project team helped us deliver a truly inclusive play experience where children of all abilities can play together in the one area.”

Kevin Sugiatno, Project Manager for Ertech, the Principal Contractor on the project, believes the all-inclusive approach to the project is the real legacy for the community.

“It’s great to see that councils are moving towards all-inclusive play where people of all ages and abilities can use park facilities. This was a really important aspect to all of us.” Sugiatno said.

The design inspiration for the play area in Gujaga Park came from the nearby Rockdale Wetlands, a critically important habitat for local endangered vegetation and wildlife.

Landscape Architect and Urban Designer on the project, Steven Holmes, Principal of DesignInc, said the vision was to educate the community on the area’s importance through the design while creating a fun-filled and unique experience for playground users.

“The playground design was based around the Rockdale Wetlands and Muddy Creek, and the ecological processes around them. So, it was crucial for playground structures to mimic the natural wetland theme of the project. Sandstone animals throughout the play area tell the story of local wildlife, with natural elements incorporated through the design.” Holmes said.

Recalling how Lark Industries was engaged on the project, Herbut said, “I had been doing a presentation for DesignInc and happened to show the GrasArt range from our partner Spiel-Bau, and it caught Steven’s eye. The colour and design of the equipment were reflective of the Rockdale wetlands, making it the perfect fit for the Gujaga Park theme, and we were able to use it to design a unique play area that created a real sense of place.”

The playground equipment also met another crucial part of the brief; it was made from steel.

“The playground structure needed to be made of steel to ensure durability and reduce ongoing maintenance. With Spiel-Bau using stainless steel posts as an integral part of their design and their play systems offering everything a little heart desires, it really ticked all of the boxes.” Herbut said.

Holmes added, “Lark Industries is becoming well-known and respected for the quality and longevity of their play and fitness equipment, which is essential for community assets. We have seen their products rolled out across many local government areas, so we knew they had a good track record.”

He continued, “Lark Industries were fantastic throughout the project. They were extremely collaborative and engaging through the initial design generation. As we approached construction where things can go pear-shaped, they were quick to assist and offer design solutions.”

A key part of creating inclusive projects like this for the community is having a client like Transport for NSW thoroughly consider and prioritise the needs of the community through the design.

“It was so great to work with a client like Transport for NSW that was so open to ideas and committed to leaving a legacy in the community,” Herbut said.

Holmes added, “There was never any hesitancy to make sure the community got exactly what they needed and deserved. There was a high level of community consultation and a strong commitment to funding the project, and the final outcome speaks to that. The whole team worked collaboratively throughout the project, and we were all in agreeance on what we wanted to create for the community. This meant the design intent was never compromised at any point through the project.”

Gujaga Park opened to the public on Friday 17 December 2021 and according to Transport for NSW the project has been a complete success.

“The public has definitely spoken. There are adults and kids everywhere. People are travelling from across Sydney to use the park which is clearly a regional attraction. The M6 Stage 1 team are very proud of this work.” Dawson said.

See more here from Transport for NSW.