When Gunnedah mum Ashley Bender started petitioning for an all-inclusive playground in 2013, she had no idea the concept would get off the ground.
Visiting parks is stressful for Ashley, with fears for her children’s safety, particularly her seven-year-old son, Kyren Roberts, who was diagnosed with autism at the age of two.
There is now hope in sight for the family, with a design approved for the proposed Livvi’s Place Inclusive Playground at Wolseley Park.
The design was given the nod by Gunnedah Shire Council during an extraordinary council meeting. The concept plan was developed by Kathryn Yigman of Stewart Surveys following extensive consultation with the community and the Inclusive Playground Working Group.
Ashley and her mother, Jane, both viewed the design in late-July and said they were impressed.
“We’re very excited that it’s going to happen,” Ashley told the Namoi Valley Independent.
“They have exceeded my expectations.”
Jane said the equipment proposed for the playground is “just outstanding”.
“It’s great for kids with special needs and disabilities because they’ll be able to play side-by-side with kids of all needs,” she said.
Jane said the playground would also make Gunnedah a more attractive place to stop.
“It’s not just for the kids. It will be fabulous for tourism for Gunnedah,” she said.
The pair also welcomed news that the council will enter into partnership with the Touched By Olivia Foundation, which aims to create inclusive play spaces in Australia for all families.
“I’m extremely happy that they did decide to partner with Touched by Olivia because that was something we wanted to happen,” Ashley said.
For Ashley, the playground project represents more than just a play space.
“A part of this whole project initially was to show Kyren that he can achieve what anyone else can achieve,” she said.
“Nothing’s going to hold him back. He can reach for whatever he wants to.”
Ashley and Jane said they were thankful to the council’s community and social planner, Debra Hilton, and environment and planning services director, Andrew Johns, for their efforts in bringing the project to fruition.
The council will seek extra funding from the Stronger Country Communities Program for the project.
Ms Hilton said Touched by Olivia had created a Facebook group – Friends of Livvi’s Place Gunnedah – to enable the community to keep up-to-date with the project.
“We need to demonstrate to those that are assessing our grant application that this project is much-loved and needed in the community,” Ms Hilton said.
“We encourage anyone interested in this project to join this page to show their support for the project.
“This playground will be a fantastic and imaginative play space for children of all abilities, and will provide extensive recreational, social and community benefits.”