'Right to Play' motion aims to improve Sunderland play parks for children with disabilities and special needs

Councillors in Sunderland have unanimously backed a motion aiming to improve children’s play parks by offering more equipment accessible to those with disabilities and special needs.

An initial motion was put forward by Conservative councillors at Wednesday’s meeting of Sunderland City Council, looking to ensure all children have “the equal right to play”.

Councillor Richard Dunn, who proposed the motion, said the city “needs to have the ambition to deliver the best and most inclusive accessible parks in the country.”

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An amended motion was then put forward by Labour councillors, who supported the initial aims, but added references to positive work carried out to date and progress the city has already, and continues to make.

The motion was voted through at Sunderland's City Hall.

That won unanimous support from across the chamber, with councillors stressing the importance of providing such facilities.

Cllr Dunn, in raising the initial motion, said he has worked with children, young people and adults with disabilities for 14 years, and initiatives like this are “why he wanted to get involved in local politics”.

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He said: “At the moment it’s a bit of a lottery for young people depending on where they live and what quality parks they have access to.

“We have some beautiful parks across our city, but some of our play parks are not accessible or inclusive, for our young people with disabilities.

“For far too long our young people are being excluded from joining in with their siblings, their friends, and are forced to watch from the sidelines.”

Labour’s Councillor Claire Rowntree, deputy council leader, who raised the amendment, said she “supported what the motion aimed to achieve” but wanted to “acknowledge positive work and progress the city had made”.

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Examples of good work being carried out in the city to date included accessible roundabouts being installed in parks and the “excellent” wheelchair swing at Hylton Castle play park.

Conservative Councillor Pam Mann, who seconded the original motion, said it’s about “taking a proactive approach to ensure that every child has an equal right to play”.

She said: “This isn’t a sob story, or any kind of negative approach, it’s a genuine need to provide a little more.”

Councillors at the meeting stressed the importance of budgets being made available to provide such provision.

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As part of the work, city council chiefs will consider replacing any damage or vandalised equipment with accessible alternatives.

Councillor Linda Williams, portfolio holder for Vibrant City, said: “Over the last 20 years we have developed a lot of play areas across the city and we do need to keep moving and change those children’s expectations.

“The one plea I would say is those people who are out there doing this damage to our play parks, give themselves a kick because it’s absolutely criminal.”

The approved motion will ensure council chiefs continue to risk assess parks accessibility and inclusiveness and maintain carrying out frequent play park condition surveys.

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An action plan will also be drawn up on the issue, to return to council within six months.

The council will ensure all future play spaces are developed through community participation, with inclusivity as a key focus, as they aim to ensure all disabled children can enjoy inclusive and accessible play parks close to home.

As part of this, the amendment motion stated the council will install a minimum of one additional wheelchair swing in each of the five regions covered by area committees

Finally, council chiefs will enhance sensory involvement and consider introductions of equipment aimed at touch and sound senses for those with audio or visual impairments.