Six-year-old Brendan Murphy knows he can’t ever walk or run around like other kids his age.
Brendan's physical disability means that he is a full-time wheelchair user, and spends a lot of time attending hospital appointments and physio sessions.
UCC-based occupational therapist Dr Helen Lynch said: "We've found when we talk to kids, they've said 'I'm the problem as a wheelchair user'. In fact, the problem is the environment."
The research carried out by the Department of Occupational Science & Occupational Therapy at UCC has been invaluable in informing the design of the Crann Centre's new accessible playground and leisure area.
Maeve Murphy, Brendan's mother, would agree.
“Brendan gets that he is different that way,” says Maeve. “What he can’t understand is why there are no fun things he can play with, nor equipment he can use independently with his friends at playgrounds.”
Like all kids his age, Brendan loves playing. “He is full of fun, loves adventure," said Maeve. "He loves the beach and the woods. I do a lot of lifting and carrying Brendan to make sure he doesn’t miss out."
The Murphy family — which includes dad Philip, older sister Clara (14) and brother Felipe (12) — recently had their home in Ballincollig modified to make everyday life easier for Brendan and the family.
Maeve says: “We knew what we needed to change, so it is wonderful now as everything functions so well.”
This, she says, is possibly what she likes most about the hugely exciting project that the Crann Centre in Cork is embarking upon — building Ireland’s first inclusive playground and leisure area in nearby Ovens in Co Cork.
“They took the time to speak to us and to other families living with a physical disability to find what is most important when it comes to play, to socialising and to living in a safe way. They incorporated our findings into the design.”
Crann is a charity that provides lifelong support to families living with neuro-physical disabilities in Ireland, including spina bifida, cerebral palsy and spinal cord injury. Crann's many services and programmes cover: Health & Continence, Psychological Wellbeing, Mobility, Education & Career Pathways, Community & Networks and Independent Living, among others.
The Crann Centre brings vast experience and commitment in delivering services to children with disabilities.
Padraig Mallon, CEO of Crann, said the new inclusive playground and leisure area will be life-changing for so many, including adults with disabilities.
“We are committed to building this playground and leisure centre this year. Construction started in July 2021,” said Padraig. “We want every child to have the opportunity to equally participate and enjoy the cognitive, social and emotional benefits that play can bring. Approximately 140,000 children in Ireland live with a disability.
“They should have opportunities to play with others and be physically active and have fun but many children and adults living with disability have difficulty finding accessible play areas that families and friends can enjoy together.”
The project will cost €500,000. Padraig said: “We are delighted to have half the funds pledged already.”
However, raising the remainder, he said, will be a challenge.
"We are asking the public and businesses to support the building of this life-changing amenity by donating at cranncentre.ie/donate or at gofundme.com/f/cranns-accessible-playground," said Padraig Mallon.
Meanwhile, in-depth research by UCC-based occupational therapists Dr Helen Lynch and Alice Moore also informed the Crann Centre's design of this inclusive new facility.
Alice Moore said: "We used a framework developed by colleagues in Australia, with three guiding principles: Can I get there? Can I play? Can I stay? Playgrounds are meant to be fun, yet for many families, they are the opposite. Principles of universal design guided our plan. We also engaged with the users, who are experts in their own lives."
This new multi-generational quarter-acre space at the Crann Centre will be accessible for wheelchair users of all ages. It will include a giant pirate ship, swings, slides, ramps and climbing walls. There will also be a sensory garden, basketball court, accessible tabletop games, picnic benches and a barbecue area.
These new amenities are eagerly anticipated by 12-year-old Molly Marshall, from Passage West. Molly loves going to playgrounds, but her mum Maire says very few are suitable for children with mobility issues.
“Molly has cerebral palsy — it is mild to moderate — so while she is not a wheelchair user (except for long-distance), she walks differently; she has issues with balance, so climbing and steps are an issue. Most playgrounds have little if anything she can use.”
Maire works as an educational psychologist and stresses the importance of play as part of a child’s social and emotional development.
“It is where they learn to develop independence and engage with children their age. Having opportunities to visit cleverly designed spaces like the Crann Centre is essential for children living with physical disabilities. I think it is fantastic to have facilities like this available that will give children that bit of freedom.”
Hannah O’Sullivan, 19, from Portmagee, Co Kerry, is also keenly looking forward to using the playground. She has a physical disability, cerebral palsy which means she can’t walk or balance herself independently and is a full-time wheelchair user.
Hannah says she was overjoyed when Crann contacted her in June 2020 to inform her about a project they would be taking on to design an inclusive playground and leisure area and that they wanted to hear her experience of playgrounds as a full-time wheelchair user.
“I am delighted for the children today who have mobility issues that they can enjoy this experience and no longer have limits and barriers to outdoor play. It will change their lives forever.”
Do you work for a company that wants to make a real-world difference in the community? Find out how partnering with Crann on this important project can motivate your team, further your CSR goals and make a real difference to families with disabilities.
Contact Justin Farrell, Crann's fundraising manager, to see how a partnership can work for your company.
To find Justin's details click HERE.
To make a donation to the Crann Centre's life-changing Accessible Playground, click HERE.