Hamilton, December 4, 2023
It is a magic moment for the children of Hamilton, as the city’s first fully accessible playground officially opened on Friday, December 1, 2023, at Claudelands Park.
‘The Magical Bridge playground’ has been built in collaboration with Hamilton City Council and Magical Bridge Trust, a charitable trust started by passionate members of the disability community.
The Trust’s mission is to create a fully inclusive playground that removes barriers for individuals and families with physical or neurological disabilities and is designed to include everyone, no matter their age or ability.
A welcome move for the community
Mayor Paula Southgate said that the project “is part of Council’s commitment to making a more accessible city, where everyone has the opportunity to thrive, and is testament to what can be achieved when we partner with the communities we serve. I wish to thank the team at Magical Bridge Trust, and all those involved in bringing this magic vision to life.”
Every element of the Magical Bridge Playground considers universal accessibility. Chair of Magical Bridge Trust, Peter Van Vroonhoven, said it is about giving everyone the chance to play.
“One in four New Zealanders have a disability of some kind, but only 10% of those have visible disabilities. We wanted to create a playground that includes everyone, whether it is wheelchair users, those with hearing and vision impairments, the neuro-diverse community, and more.”
About the space
The 8000m2 fenced playground includes 3500m2 of themed zones, including a slide zone, balance and bounce zone, swing zone and spin zone, as well as retreat huts, waterplay, a playhouse and a stage.
The design also includes shade, seating and drinking fountains. Fundraising is underway for phase two of the playground, which will add more sensory features, accessible toilets, a more inclusive flying fox, fitness equipment, a sensory climbing dome and New Zealand’s first Musical Laser Harp.
Mayor Southgate said “I am immensely proud that Hamilton Kirikiriroa is now home to the first of its kind, fully inclusive playground in New Zealand, one that the whole community of all ages and abilities, can enjoy together without boundaries. I hope this sets the benchmark for all new playgrounds throughout New Zealand.”
“Hamilton is living up to its reputation as a city of the future, establishing the nation’s initial Changing Places bathroom, which provides adequate public changing rooms for people with disabilities, and now the first fully inclusive playground in New Zealand.”
Magical Bridge Trust was formed by passionate members of Hamilton’s disability community and is a licensed partner of Magical Bridge Foundation USA, a non-profit that advocates for, designs and builds playgrounds and parks for children and adults of all ages, abilities, and sizes.
Inspired by this kaupapa, the Magical Bridge Trust New Zealand was formed. In 2022, they partnered with the Council to design and build the first international Magical Bridge Playground.
Stage one was funded through a combination of community grants, sponsorship and in-kind donations as well as $1.4 million from the Council’s existing renewals budget.
It is a fully inclusive playground removing barriers for all with physical and neurological disabilities.
Councillor Kesh Naidoo-Rauf, Chair of the Community and Natural Environment Committee, said that the Magical Bridge Playground is an exciting addition to Claudelands Park and the wider community.
“It is so important that we provide a safe and inclusive play space for people of all ages and abilities. We are thrilled to be working with Peter and the Magical Bridge team to bring the country’s first fully accessible playground to our city, creating a more open and welcoming Hamilton.”
Jamie Strange, former Member of Parliament for Hamilton East said, “The Magical Bridge accessible playground is coming to Claudelands Park, Hamilton. This is another step in Hamilton becoming more accessible and inclusive. Well done to Peter and the team for reaching this point.”
Ryan Hamilton, Hamilton East MP said in a social media post, “I am stoked to see New Zealand’s first accessible playground in Hamilton which is open now at Claudelands, all due to the relentless determination of Chair Peter Van Vroonhoven. The Council, local sponsorships, Trust Waikato, in-kind support, discounts from dozens of businesses and even a Givealittle page, everyone has pulled together something very special.”
Mixed emotions on the matter
While the spirit and the efforts have been appreciated by the community at large, the timing of the opening has also brought criticism to the Hamilton City Council. With the announcement of a rate increase of up to 25%, the Council came under fire for being insensitive to the challenges faced by households.
Jana D (Name Changed) commented online and said, “How much did this cost? Does the Council not realise what having a huge debt means? It means do not spend money on ‘wants’ just on ‘Needs’ as we are all going through a cost of living crisis.”
Another resident who did not wish to be named, said, “ The council needs to be a bit more sensitive in their approach and not just assume that every politically correct move is required in this very moment. We would love to be more inclusive as a city, but being respectful of people’s struggles would not hurt. Some families are struggling to keep their home or even putting food on the table for their children.”
Praneeta Mahajan is Indian Newslink Reporter based in Hamilton.