February 19, 2019
Kingston is an idyllic village in East Sussex, two miles south of Lewes. If you were going to describe a picture book British village, it would look a lot like Kingston, right down to the village green.
Mark Lawson Bell, Creative Director of Plinth Creative, moved to the village in 2016 after 25 years living in Hackney, London. Having completed a launch event for the Cunard's Queen Mary II, he had some rope left over and threw it over the branch of a beautiful Danish Maple on the green. With a stick from the woods added to the bottom, he had the perfect swing for his kids to play on.
It soon became a hub for all of the local children to meet and play together. In Mark's own words "there was something almost primal about it. The swing was so basic and devoid of officialdom that kids flocked to it."
"I watched the kids carrying out their own personal risk assessments. They looked at the rope, looked at the branch and looked at the stick attached to the bottom. Soon they were all playing beautifully together and a year went by, until we received THAT email."
In the email from Kingston Parish Council that was titled 'Unauthorised play area' Mark was told that the swing needed to be removed immediately as their insurer had warned them that it was 'probably' not installed by someone with appropriate skills or insurance and unlikely that the tree itself hadn't been certified by someone with appropriate qualifications, they couldn't insure the swing.
This left Kingston Parish Council in the difficult situation that despite the fact the members lived in the village, they had little choice but to ask for its removal.
Rather than give up, Mark removed the swing, much to the disappointment of the local children, but then took it upon himself to try and find a solution.
Having spoken to the founder of the Forest Schools movement, he discovered it WAS technically possible to insure a tree swing. A helpful report by the HSE, in conjunction with Brighton University strengthened his hand further. Essentially, they acknowledged that in the past, some of their dictats may have been too stringent and they had curtailed children's sense of adventure and their ability to process risk.
This was the 'bingo' moment.
So, he went back to Kingston Parish Council to explore options. After detailed discussions, they agreed that their insurer was more about removing risk than enabling play, so they agreed a route forwards.
All that Mark and his neighbours needed was to form a committee to oversee the project. Once they'd done this, they needed to ensure the tree was safe and that the swing would be installed properly by someone with the required skills, experience and insurances. With all this in place, they were good to go.
A full tree certification was carried out on the Danish Maple and it was found to be healthy enough to hold a swing.
Soon after this, our own Joe Hallam visited the site and installed a new swing. You can see the images from the install and the smiles on the faces of the kids after it was back up and ready for them to play again.
So insurers will play ball and thanks to the tenacity of Mark, the cooperation of Kingston Parish Council Swingate is over and the children of Kingston can play again.
We do love a happy ending.