A versatile and colourful exercise space is going to be constructed in the city with the aim of getting people of all ages, to be active and socialise

Portsmouth has been chosen to host the UK’s first PLAYCE, a multi-skills activity space built using a pioneering scientific model for movement.

The purpose of the outdoor playground is to get people moving by challenging them to think outside the box when it comes to physical activity.

It is designed in a way that anyone can use the space, from young and old and all skill levels, including those with disabilities and additional needs. Uniquely, there are also no separate play areas for different groups, but an integrated “PLAYCE” for all.

The project is a collaboration between the University of PortsmouthPortsmouth City Council (PCC), and the Athletic Skills Model (ASM) Company.

Dr Martina Navarro, Senior lecturer in the School of Sport, Health and Exercise Science at the University of Portsmouth, said: “The PLAYCE will be somewhere residents can get together, to not only be physically active, but engage in play and games. The most novel part of it is that the space is designed with the community in mind.

“Our overall aim is to encourage a more fun, active lifestyle for people in the surrounding area.”

It is hoped that the versatile public space will be constructed in Lords Court, Landport, after the council approved the use of the site.

Schools, sports clubs, health centres, sports coaches and informal carers will also be able to use it to carry out their training or exercise programmes.

Cllr Darren Sanders, Cabinet Member for Housing and Preventing Homelessness, said: “Having the UK’s first PLAYCE is incredibly exciting. It is a great chance to improve play for hundreds of homes and builds on our excellent adventure playground nearby, one of six in the city, and the great work done in Arundel Court School.

“Local people deserve to have more control over the area around them. I am delighted the University agrees and will involve local people in informing any design. I am also delighted the council is funding the training of local people to help everyone use this site to its fullest potential.

“The council is already spending money to improve the rest of the Courts estate and I am delighted that this play space will now get the investment it deserves. It will be great to see how this project progresses.”

The space will be designed in accordance with the principles of the Athletic Skills Model (ASM), a practical and scientifically based talent development model for sport, physical education, health care and art and culture.

Science is involved in the layout, so that basic forms of movement, including balancing, climbing, throwing, frolicking, jumping, etc., can be done. These are known as the ASM’s fundamental 10.

The idea originated in the Netherlands, where more than 40 PLAYCEs and Skill Gardens have been built in schools, hospitals, sport clubs, and public spaces.

A multi-coloured play area
An example PLAYCE

René Wormhoudt, High-Performance Coach of the Dutch Men’s National Football team, is the CEO and co-founder of ASM.

He explained where the idea for the ASM model came from: “I saw that they were good footballers, but not athletes. As if they could play a beautiful piece on the piano, but they were not musicians.

“Focusing on just one sport or specialism only increases the risk of injuries, overloading and loss of strength. It can also lead athletes and novices to lose interest in what they’re doing. For a healthy and high-quality development, it’s important to have variety in sport and exercise.

“This results in better performance, fewer injuries, increased creativity and more fun!”

The Portsmouth PLAYCE is being funded by the University of Portsmouth. The money will be spent on community consultations and engagement, and the design and construction.

Additional funding from the council’s public health team will go towards training a number of local community representatives and exercise professionals in ASM so they can optimise the use of the site, plus greening the area surrounding the site.

The team hopes to encourage businesses and individuals to also contribute to the project and transform the PLAYCE into a “Skills Garden”, a larger design tailor-made with the surrounding community in mind.

Dr Navarro added: “If we had additional funding, we could expand the project and turn the initial PLAYCE design into a full Skills Garden, support students doing placements, and deliver activity sessions for people living nearby.”

Cllr Matthew Winnington, Cabinet Member for Health, Wellbeing and Social Care, said: “This novel approach to movement that the Athletic Skills Model brings is really exciting. Many Portsmouth residents are not as active as they could be, which is a trend that starts in childhood and continues into adulthood.

“Both the physical health, and mental wellbeing benefits of being active cannot be overlooked, given physical inactivity is associated with 1 in 6 deaths in the UK. Creating a space that allows the whole family to be active together is a great thing to do and we are investing in the upskilling of some of our local play, youth and teaching staff to ensure they have the skills and confidence to support the athletic model in Landport.

“We are hoping that this is only the start for Portsmouth, and we continue to lead the way, with health and activity embedded within our communities as we go forward.”

More details about the University of Portsmouth PLAYCE project can be found on the University of Portsmouth PLAYCE website