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Train project gets Gisborne chugging along

Train project gets Gisborne chugging along

Wooden train in a playground

A “super cool” life-sized wooden train engine in a Gisborne playground is attracting plenty of interest thanks to a new Sport NZ initiative.

Katie Kennedy became Gisborne District Council’s local play advocate a year ago, one of 18 newly-created roles nationwide positioned in councils to help regions better understand, plan and invest in play opportunities for tamariki.

After a successful pilot of the Local Play Workforce project, Katie was among the first cohort of local play advocates brought on board as part of the Sport NZ funded initiative.

Since then, she has supported council units to consciously and positively impact play opportunities.

Her work so far has included helping to set the foundation for the development of a Regional Play Strategy for Tairāwhiti, advocating for play across more than 20 different council and community projects and prioritising the consideration of play as an “everywhere activity”.

It has also meant working with key organisations across Tairāwhiti to trial different approaches to play to address play equity.

One of her favourite projects to date has been the wooden train installed at Waikanae Beach playground over summer.

Katie worked with community contractors to develop and deliver the bespoke wooden train after playground equipment was removed in the lead-up to Christmas 2023.

“The response from the community has been wonderful, with local and visiting tamariki and their whānau sharing stories and feedback over social media,” says Katie.

And as feedback via social media shows, it is encouraging play.

“This is super cool”, said one parent, while another said: “It’s good to see these types of projects for the children. Not only something to play on, but these sort of public playing facilities get children to mix and meet and make friends with other children”.

A further social media post said: “It embraces children's imaginative play, using natural resources and the ability for it to be moved to different places”.

After seeing a local noticeboard post Katie reached out to a local company with a simple brief which they refined together. It resulted in the development of a custom-made train that can be moved from site to site, explains Katie.

The train was built for free by locally-owned Cut Above Sawmilling & Furniture. The wood was milled from trees grown up the Tauwhareparae and built in Ngātapa.

The train itself is a single solid piece, playground compliant and moveable, which means it can be taken to different sites around the region.

While locals have enjoyed the new train at the busy waterfront playground over the summer period, it has also sparked conversations within council.

“There’s been talk about integrating play in projects outside of traditional playground equipment and broadening the conversations about what each community wants and needs from play and what play can look like,” says Katie.

Looking forward, there are possibilities of using local contractors to develop other natural play initiatives and to create play opportunities that reflect communities across our region, she says.

The focus links back to Sport NZ’s investment principles. Investing smart, considering play as an “everywhere activity” and diversifying approaches to play can help to reduce costs for local government while increasing play outcomes at the same time.

Ultimately, Katie says it’s not just creating places for play but integrating it into urban and township planning and considering the natural and built environment tamariki experience every day.

As leading experts say, play is the rocket fuel for a child's development.

“Through play tamariki develop cognitive, social, emotional, and physical wellbeing, while also nurturing critical skills like building relationships, fostering creativity and developing resilience,” says Katie.

“Play is anything that tamariki do just for fun, it is how they explore and discover the world and practice the key skills they need to navigate life.”

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