Horsham Nursery School, West Sussex

Horsham Nursery School Children and Family Centre

When moving into a purpose built site in 2008, Horsham Nursery School, Children and Family Centre found themselves with a blank canvas for their outdoor space. Like many new builds they were in the position of having wetpour and tarmac covering a large part of the outdoor area with a small amount of grass. With a vision for the outdoor area they wanted to reverse the situation by having lots of green space with natural elements and very little tarmac and wetpour.

Project Brief

With a limited budget but a long term vision, the setting was able to improve the play opportunities within the space. This was done with planting and natural features, alongside established pathways and the addition of choice pieces of equipment, but all the time they felt they were lacking a holistic approach to play within the site. Through fundraising and budget saving activities, the setting was able to put money aside for their outdoor project that would enable them to work with a company that would bring their long term vision to life.

The Head Teacher Debbie Carter comments:-
“We had been looking around for an outdoor company that would help us create a flexible, open-ended play environment which maximised the play potential of the landscape. We found that most companies just wanted to sell us play equipment and were unable to see our vision for a landscape led play space that meets the needs of the early years. We were recommended Playgarden  by Early Years Outdoor Consultant, Jan White. Playgarden with their Specialist Early Years Landscape Architect service were able to work alongside us to create a design that provided the play experiences we were keen to embrace – sand and water, multiple journeys,  more planting and different levels.

We were really pleased with this service because we were able to work hand in hand with the architect to develop a play environment rich in play and learning opportunities for the early years. We really felt that the architect took the time to understand what we were trying to achieve in the space and it was good value for money to invest at the beginning of the project to ensure we achieved the outcome we were looking for.”


A network of pathways wind around the space, enabling children to plot different journeys either on foot, using scooters or bikes. An intersecting bridge and path combination adds height, and also provides the perfect observation point.  This feature is also very popular with children with limited mobility, who are unable to climb up the climbing frame but with support can go over the bridge and enjoy the unique perspective this gives them.

The sand and water elements work well together, so children can experiment with these two materials, understanding the changing properties of sand as water is added. The outdoor play space includes a Mushroom Pump, which runs across the pebble play stream, the use of a dam means the children determine when and how often the water is directed into the sand pit. Seasonal and varied planting is used liberally around the site to create playable, sensory elements that change with the seasons.


• The open ended design empowers children to play imaginatively, and freely select routes and journeys to plot their way around the site

• Bridge configuration enables children with limited mobility to experience height.

• Bridge enables children to plot routes around site, becoming more familiar with concepts of over and under.

• Extensive sensory planting has created a varied landscape, one the changes through the seasons and will attract a variety of wildlife.

• Sand and water play enables children to gain a better understanding of the materials and the science of how they work alongside each other.

• Water play allows children to control the flow of the water, damming it and experiencing the natural flow.

Equipment: Mushroom pump, dam, bridge

Landscaping: Sand and water, pathways, sensory planting

What the client said…