Huge overhaul of Viking Ship play area in Cliftonville approved as part of £211k parks funding for Thanet

How the new equipment could look at the 'Viking Ship' play area

The play area at Ethelbert Crescent in Cliftonville is to get an overhaul with new play equipment which will feature inclusive apparatus such as a wheelchair carousel.

The Viking Ship play area was installed in 2009 with the major structural components being of Robinia wood rather than the galvanised/powder coated steel used for most apparatus.

However, the condition of play equipment has been deteriorating and become a Health and Safety risk. An inspection in December 2020 reported 83 defects at the Viking Ship playground with concerns raised over the timber structural elements of the Viking ship itself.

A report from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (ROSPA), following inspections and surveys, highlighted concerns about the condition of the Rocker Seal, the Playhouse, the Sprung Rocker Ship and the Viking Ship.

Thanet council has been forking out a ‘disproportionate’ amount from the annual playground budget on the Viking Ship area in an attempt to keep it safe.

The total annual playground revenue budget of £39,000 a year is split between the isle’s 31 playgrounds. In 2020/21, £12,647 was spent on essential maintenance and £1,900 on inspections at the Ethelbert Crescent play area.

Last month Thanet council was notified of a £211,280 allocation from Kent County Council for Community Parks as part of Contain Outbreak Management funding (COMF) to be invested within the district.

The funding must be spent by 31 March 2022 and must be used for children’s play equipment and/or community chairs and tables.

At a Cabinet meeting this month councillors approved a plan that would mean the bulk of the funding is used at the Viking Ship play area.

Funding of £169,517 will be used for demolition of the existing site and then installation of replacement play equipment.

The proposed new equipment is aimed at inclusive play and features:

  1. Castles Keep – large 3 storey castle with multiple slides, poles and net
  2. Castle Gatehouse – castle with slide and rope bridge
  3. Track Ride Tower – zip wire type apparatus with tower and net
  4. Wheelchair Carousel – inclusive roundabout carousel
  5. Swings with cradle swing set and inclusive “you and me” swing
  6. Jumper Square – floor trampoline type jumper
  7. Horse Seesaw
  8. Spinner Bowl
  9. Agility Trail

Work is due to take place in February and March 2022 and will include the demolition/removal of the existing Viking ship, playhouse climbing frame, rocker seal and sprung rocker ship.

The aim is to take the large natural timber sections to Dane Park depot for storage with the intention of recycling for uses such as raised bedding borders.

Funding of £4,000 has been allocated for painting of play equipment and fencing at Crispe Park in Birchington. Another £14,700 will be used for safety surfacing at Northdown Park and there is a provisional allocation of £16,000 for boundary fencing at Memorial Recreation Ground, Broadstairs.

The Memorial Park play area was upgraded in 2014 but has suffered two major instances of vandalism. In the second incident the boundary fence was set alight and destroyed.

Fencing ripped down at Memorial Rec Nov 2020Photo Irene Hoskins

The report to Cabinet members says: “The play area is now open to the remainder of the recreation area reducing the safety and security for children using the play equipment. Instances of dog fouling and dogs running through the play area have occurred since the damaged fence has been removed. “It is therefore proposed to install a new powder coated bow topped galvanised steel fence to encourage the safe use of this park. This material selection will also make it much harder to repeat the wide scale damage caused by the previous vandalism and arson attack.”

Cllr Mike Garner

At the meeting Green councillor Mike Garner suggested Section 106 money – contributions from developers for isle infrastructure – should be investigated with any outstanding amounts added to the fund for the Cliftonville park which, in turn, would release funding to replace the Memorial Rec play area fencing.

He added: ““I’m pleased to see this community grants funding of £211k made available for works to play areas in Thanet although I have to say I’m disappointed that the Government gives us, and other recipients, such a short timescale to spend it or, it seems, lose it. This inevitably means that any time for public consultation is reduced even more than usual.

“The play areas identified, especially the Viking Ship playground in Cliftonville, are certainly in need of urgent attention and I agree they should be the priority.

Vandals targeted the Broadstairs Memorial Rec play area May 2017

“Residents in Broadstairs recently benefited from the renewal of the 4 playgrounds across the town which brought a new lease of life to the parks they are situated in. I know this is especially true in my ward on the estate around the Vincent Close park. “These upgrades were funded by section 106 money which had been made available as a result of new housing developments in the town.

“I believe section 106 money has been available for play areas in Cliftonville from similar developments there in the last couple of years.

“If there is any of this money available then I would hope it could be used in conjunction with the £211k. This would then mean that the provisional item of replacing the fence around the Memorial Rec playground can be funded along with other playground projects in other parts of Thanet.”

Cllr Garner has been told council officers will investigate the 106 funding.

Thanet’s Cabinet member for youth engagement, Cllr George Kup, said: “I am very pleased that we have been able to secure the funding that is needed from KCC to keep the Viking Ship play area open, for so many residents and visitors to enjoy.

“It is also encouraging that we have been able to allocate some of the money to other smaller projects to ensure some of the district’s other parks, like Crispe Park in Birchington, are kept in a usable condition for everyone to enjoy.”


  1. I think the council should add cctv to prevent misuse / vandalism. I used to take my grandchildren there but the poor maintenance, the disguarded used condoms in the viking ship and the general rubbish everywhere put me off taking them 😥

    • The amount of broken glass in the Viking Ship playground from beer bottles smashed by the drinkers is horrendous. It needs regular deep cleaning but doesn’t seem to be on any rota. When it has been, only the litter was picked up and glass left.
      Will the playground be renamed once the viking ship is demolished?

  2. The Council could have saved a few bob on fencing at The Memorial Rec. in Broadstairs. If the new adult fitness equipment, had been sited at he other end of the Park. Then that part would not need fencing off. Children and adult fitness equipment do not mix. It is a accident waiting to happen, and it gives certain types of adults a reason to go into play areas. God knows what they were thinking putting it there.

  3. What a perfect opportunity to renovate the adjacent Newgate Gap shelter into a café where parents can socialise whilst being nearby and able to keep an eye on their children? There is more than enough funding out there to preserve our legacy structures and repurpose them to meet new demand.

  4. Robinia Wood is more sturdy than Oak and was used in mining to reinforce tunnels so just shows it has not been maintained correctly if it’s splitting after 12 years. Also, surely TDC should ask it’s residents what they would like to see in the park rather than decide for us! They must think we’re all to stupid to have a say in it. Good to see democracy at a local level is going strong!

  5. The dilapidation is only the result of TDC’s inadequate maintenance over many years. Wood of the quality used in the Viking playground is highly durable and ideal for the purpose. This is a conservation area and the character of the playground is widely known and valued. It can and must be preserved, and the design proposed entirely fails to do that. Funding is available from many sources, so the community should not be blackmailed into accepting into this. The manner in which this has been done i.e. zero community consultation, has to stop.

  6. I fully agree, being the supplier of this bespoke playground and with over 20 years of experience working with Robinia Playground equipment, this playground is in no need of replacement. It would be a waste of resources and only to be cried for if to be replaced with another “rubber/plastic play desert”. Looking thoroughly at the photos in this article, I am convinced only minor repairs would be required, e.g. replacing of missing parts, addressing possible splits, sanding off sap wood and repaint. We have overhauled similar sized playgrounds for a cost ranging between 8-12 k, where we completely sanded off the sapwood. The playground will look like new and would last at least for another 10 years. Please feel free to ask for further information.

  7. I hope that the decision makers have done their research on the fencing. Regardless of it being ‘galvanised and powder coated’, unless it is built from quality steel with inherent anti-vandal connectors and features, and has a long guarantee, it will be being replaced in another five years’ time.

    Also, will the fencing be safe? The only bow top fencing suitable for a playground is anti-trap bow top fencing which conforms to BS EN 1176. Children being children will always climb the fence. If it is an anti-trap bow top fence, this will stop children from getting their limbs and necks stuck and resulting in serious injuries.

    Jacksons Fencing has a great range of safe playground fencing and gates, with a 25 year guarantee. Plus they have a lot of good advice regarding playgrounds:

  8. It looks as if the existing equipment might be able to be renovated for £12000 giving it another 10years of life, according to
    Rinske Wassenaar as written above. Surely we need a survey by people who know about this sort of equipment and materials? Without a proper maintenance schedule no material can survive in this harsh external site and that seems to be lacking. Without proper protection against mindless vandalism (Perhaps CCTV) a repeat of senseless damage will recur.
    Needs a proper look by professionals with quotations before the money is wasted again by TDC.
    The aim of any demonstration must be a positive outcome as suggested here.

  9. Having been into the playground today for the first time, I could see nothing that demanded repair, but apparently some is needed. TDC were there attending to a bin fire and broken glass, so the way the equipment has coped with the daily vandalism is remarkable testament to its design and the natural materials. There is room for more inclusive equipment, without losing any of the existing biodiversity or equipment that is clearly giving many children real pleasure.

  10. So many “experts” in Thanet, on so many different subjects, from aviation to now so of the lesser known types of constructional timber.

    Strange there is so much knowledge from so many people, yet none work in the field.

  11. The Robinia wood of which much of the Viking playground is made, is naturally fire resistant. The plastic, metal and rubber surface due to replace it, are not. The Viking Ship has withstood countless disposable bbq’s being lit on and under it, over the last 12 years! In future, fire will rapidly spread across the rubber surface from one piece of new equipment to the next. TDC self-insure for the first £200K of any loss, so this expensive replacement, could be destroyed within weeks of its installation, permanently ending its use as a playground. Perhaps that is the idea anyway?

  12. Really hope they make the gates toddler proof
    My little one is always escaping and running and it’s so scary being so close to the cliff.

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