Dr Shoshana Dreyfus, second from left, with a representative from The Disability Trust, MP Alison Byrne, a representative from Wollongong City Council, and Paul Scully MP. Photo: Mark Newsham

Construction begins on new playground in North Wollongong

Construction begins on new playground in North Wollongong

UOW-led, community-driven project will enable young adults with disabilities to enjoy benefits of play

Wollongong’s first All Ages All Abilities playground is closer to becoming a reality. Work is underway on the Wollongong City Council project, which was first imagined by the University of Wollongong’s (UOW) Associate Professor Shoshana Dreyfus.

The All Ages All Abilities playground, spearheaded by The Playground Project, will be located in North Wollongong’s Stuart Park and has been driven by the community and partners from across the region, including UOW, Australian Government, NSW Government, Wollongong City Council and The Disability Trust.

The Playground Project is the brainchild of Dr Dreyfus, an Associate Professor in linguistics in UOW and a specialist in systemic functional linguistics and language disorders. Her 28-year-old son Bodhi inspired the project. Bodhi was born with a severe intellectual disability and has never been able to talk. He uses non-verbal methods to communicate and loves playing at playgrounds.

The project has taken several years to come to fruition and has been brought to life with ongoing fundraising efforts and community grants.

Dr Shoshana Dreyfus sits with her son Bodhi on the stairs of playground equipment at North Wollongong. Shoshana is looking at Bodhi. Photo: Mark Newsham Dr Shoshana Dreyfus with her son Bodhi. 

The Playground Project is a not-for-profit group working towards building an adult-sized playground in Wollongong which is dedicated to the recreation needs of young adults living with intellectual disabilities, who frequently get taken to parks and playgrounds.

As playgrounds are built for 0-12-year-olds, they are usually too small for young adults living with intellectual disability to play on. Young adults living with intellectual disability need somewhere to play that is both the right size for them, that is dedicated to their needs, and where they are welcome.

Dr Dreyfus is thrilled that construction of the playground is underway and said support from the government, business, and the wider community was vital to the success of this playground and future playgrounds.

“The funds donated to the all-ages, all-abilities playground reflect the importance of this project to the region and to the community,” Dr Dreyfus said. “We have secured fundraising from all three tiers of government. The fact that it keeps winning grants is recognition that this is a vital and worthy project that will have a positive impact on our community.

“This playground will be the first of its kind, one that is truly inclusive to all, where anyone can play regardless of their size, age or intellectual or physical ability.”

Wollongong City Council General Manager Greg Doyle said that the purpose of the playground is to offer a new play opportunity that everyone can enjoy.

“This playground aims to offer something for everyone. There will be a real variety of play equipment and features for people to enjoy. Some of the features being installed during the first stage include Wollongong’s first human-sized mouse wheel, an extra-large trampoline and new play equipment,” Mr Doyle said.

“We recognise that every person’s disability is an individual experience and we’ve designed the playground to meet the needs of people of all ages and abilities. We’ve incorporated a range of different play options into the final design so that everyone can have fun and while the playground will offer something for everyone, not every element will suit every person.” 

This project is jointly funded by the Australian Government, the NSW Government, Wollongong City Council and community and business supporters. Australian Government funding of $500,000 was provided through the Local Roads and Community Infrastructure Program. This Program supports local councils to deliver priority local road and community infrastructure projects across the nation, supporting jobs and delivering benefits to local communities.

Dr Shoshana Dreyfus is close up with the playground in the background. Photo: Mark Newsham

In addition, The Playground Project has received $30,000 from the NSW Government’s Community Building Partnership Fund; $20,000 from the Federal Government’s Stronger Communities Programme; $23,000 from IMB’s Community Fund; nearly $60,000 from Multiplex, $20,000 from Wests Illawarra, $10,000 from SCE and $20,000 from Aurizon’s Community Giving Fund. In 2021, the team were awarded a UOW Community Engagement Grant to conduct the community consultation for the playground, specifically with young adults with a disability.

The All Ages All Abilities playground will be built alongside existing play equipment in Stuart Park. Construction will include earthworks and foundations, building new footpaths, landscaping, installation of park furniture and playground equipment.

Once completed, the All Ages All Abilities playground will include:

  • Large sized in-ground trampoline big enough for a wheelchair, adults and groups of children
  • Multi-swing with different swing types to cater to different ages and needs
  • Paperbark Forest Maze that offers a sensory experience through natural elements
  • Sensory garden for people to touch and smell a variety of textural plants
  • Wollongong’s very first human-sized mouse wheel
  • Sculpture by the Sea multi-sensory artwork
  • Construction of new accessible parking for minibuses

UOW’s Disability Research Network links people living with disability, the disability sector, and researchers to find practical solutions to systemic problems for people living with a disability.