The Blue Bell Pub

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21st May
The Blue Bell Pub image

Project Details

Attract families to site
Sandbach Cheshire
1 week

What was their goal?

As part of a major redevelopment of the pub, the owners were keen to attract a family demographic and ensure families could enjoy visiting the pub whilst at the same time having the children be safely entertained. They expressed that they wanted:

“something with wow-factor appeal for both local customers as well as providing attraction for families further afield — to become the go to destination for families looking for food, play and hospitality."             — The Blue Bell Publican

Did they know what they wanted? How did the fort come about?

No, other than the location and the age range of children who were expected to play on it, they were open minded as to our suggestions—they knew we were the experts in this domain and so we’re happy for us to create something unique for them. 

Previously, they had a dedicated space which had a play area; it was falling apart hence why they got in touch. It was a space at the end of the garden which had good visibility from the outdoor seating, it was out of the way of other customers and was surrounded by a hedge wall which enclosed the space from the carpark and road. 

We decided on a new style of fort for the pub because of their criteria of something with wow factor appeal, the age group of children and the shape of the space. After taking our measurements, we realised that though we make forts, our standard fort wouldn’t fit this space or age group and as such set about designing a bespoke fort that would meet all these criteria.

When designing for younger years the element of imagination is always appealing and so a fort was sure to create that wow-factor for children and parents alike. We find that when the kids are happy then so too are the parents. It included all the usual play features that you would expect such as slides, rock wall, rope walks, tunnels and bridges. 

What kind of hurdles did you encounter?

One of the interesting elements about this fort is that the ground that supports it is split over two levels, the upper section which has a concrete base and the lower part which is soil. Because of the dual level design of the fort, we needed to consider access and safety and ensure that risk was mitigated—specifically that critical fall heights were considered and over accommodated for the intended age group. 

So, part of the challenge here was to ensure that the two areas were safe and children could travel between them without risk. Rather than building an access point at ground level, we decided that by having the main entrance on the upper section and bridge across to the lower level which is twice the height, we could enclose the lower section and mitigate the risk of falls.

We also included bark surfacing so that impact protection was increased for when the inevitable falls do happen. As well as redressing the concrete pads with castellated wooden wall panelling to tie in with the fort aesthetic.

What kind of safety concerns did you have with a pub?

As always with a pub, safety concerns are of paramount importance, both from the publicans and parents perspective but also for ourselves. As this isn't simply a dedicated children's space, with the pub being open to all walks of life, we needed to be mindful that even with supervised play, risks and potential danger are present.  In theory it's a manageable element for parents to be able to supervise their children whilst also enjoying themselves, however being realistic, it might not always be the case that parents are supervising the children completely attentively whilst also trying to have an enjoyable lunch with family and friends. 

As such, we always bear this in mind at the design stage and therefore the end product just makes life easier for everybody. Things that we consider before anything is ever built are: Clear lines of sight, not having a play area too far away from the family designated tables, but also not allocating seating that requires any other users who might not be part of a family to walk through or near. Sometimes this means working with the pub and developing a new garden layout on top of building a playground, but all agree it is well worth it in the end.

Were they happy with the final result?

Yes, the owners, families and most importantly the kids love it, reporting back to us that:

The play area has been a huge success, families come from near and far to enjoy some lunch and play with their kids on Fort Smallwood! — The Blue Bell Publican 

What makes this project standout in your mind?

This was actually the first time we created a fort using this size of tower, so it was quite exciting to see how it came to fruition, both from seeing it on a computer screen at the design phase, all the way through to it being finished and built. 

We're really pleased with the result, we think it looks fantastic, it has the facade of a castle and the decoration to match. It creates a wow-factor impression but it’s actually relatively small since it's for younger years. Hopefully we can install these in more pubs (or wherever) in the future because these don't require acres of land or a huge budget—it’s a great solution for a smaller business.


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