‘Adam was incredibly helpful. He helped us with many of our questions about East Sussex and accessing wider financial services'Jo HedgesCo-director and co-owner, Natural Playscapes
With the rise of smartphones and technology grabbing children’s attention, it would be natural to assume that schools, governments and even entrepreneurs feel there can be something done to help children to have healthier, more active lifestyles in natural spaces, especially ones that that can be adapted to fit any brief.
Not only the health implications but according to TES, there are many lessons to learn on the playground as much as in the classroom. On the playground, children learn soft skills such as leadership and innovation mindsets, as well as generally being more inclusive and emotionally intelligent.
Seeing their importance now more than ever, Natural Playscapes was established to create interactive spaces that would not only encourage children’s development but be sustainable and lead with a personal and hands-on approach
‘Working collaboratively with our clients,’ co-director and owner Matthew Hedges said, ‘we have found that there has been a strong need for quality playscapes that are not only safe but expand the classroom beyond the walls of a school.’
With over 20 years of award-winning experience in education, manufacturing and playground design, couple Matthew and Jo Hedges, handle the entire process from initial idea to installation with their growing team. Guiding and learning from its clients every step of the way, using mainly natural materials such as timber to build the canvas of children’s imagination.
‘Generally, a lot of other manufacturers focus more on cutting down prices rather than quality,’ explained Jo, ‘with only the shelf-life of five years, whereas with ours, not only is it FSC certified but many of the projects we have created can last up to fifteen years!’
From playgrounds to areas of outstanding natural beauty, the team have created play spaces that would match the client’s expectations in such places like Forest School, featured on Channel Four’s The Secret Life of 4-Year-Olds and incorporating natural trees in its urban London setting, and Holt Garden Centre, where the play space would not only attract children but sit comfortably along the North Norfolk coast.
Beautiful and handcrafted, each project is professionally designed to integrate to their natural surroundings, providing the very best form of play, meeting the need for more natural solutions and those disillusioned by standard plastic equipment. ‘We always like to work with our clients directly,’ Matthew explained, ‘and ensure we deliver the best quality. We’re quite upfront with what we can deliver, but because of that we can exceed expectations or even come up with ideas for new installations’.
‘As a small, quality company, I think it is nice and important to get to know our clients.’
Starting with a free survey, to the design and custom build, the company puts as much into every playscape that they can including comprehensive aftercare, ‘We are able to be agile, offering shorter lead times with quality at competitive rates’. Natural Playscapes adapts to the logistical challenges as well as being adaptable to new markets, including recently creating colourful bespoke canopies that allow for well-ventilated but sheltered learning spaces.
With a strategy in place to invest into the market, Natural Playscapes moved its 4000 sq ft manufacturing base in North East England into Framfield, East Sussex, near Uckfield to link up to their head office.
‘We were based in the heart of Newcastle but found that the laidback and more flexible lifestyle was more attractive,’ explained Jo, ‘and East Sussex was the perfect compromise to meet our markets in Sussex, Kent and London’.
Consolidating its position and access to the South East, they have been able to expand its production capacity, reduce transportation costs, and diversify its portfolio of natural and sustainable products including opportunities in outdoor hospitality.
‘As we started to think about how to reinvest into our business, we found a majority of our projects were based in the South East, so it felt natural to move down south’.
Gaining an experienced local team and establishing a good working style, the company has started to fulfil its plans to create more opportunities, with over sixteen projects on the go and remaining competitive.
To unlock investment, Natural Playscapes contacted Locate East Sussex for business support and access to funding, with advice from business manager Adam Berger. Wanting to fulfil larger orders and create new roles in the area, this support will allow them to fulfil their goals to expand and become more efficient. With the help of the ESI programme, they were able to access funding to unlock procurement of new tools for their workshop, state of the art computers for design, and new transportation to ship to venues across the country.