Greenwich, London

The Cove at The National Maritime Museum

Wide view of the National Maritime Museum from Greenwich Observatory


Greenwich is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, home of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) and one of the most historic areas of London.

At the heart of Greenwich, you will find historic sailing ship Cutty Sark, the National Maritime Museum, the Queen’s House, and the Royal Observatory all within walking distance from each other. Together, these four amazing, renowned attractions make up Royal Museums Greenwich.

The Brief

With play, education, and inclusivity at the very heart of the Museum’s culture, the aim of a new outdoor play experience was to further increase the offer and create a destination for families that will not only be a highlight of their first visit, but also work as a major draw to return to the Museum time and time again.

You can see this begin to come to life with the initial site plan, sketched by the design team.

With more work, this then grew into visualisations of some of the key elements.

Inclusive design

With inclusivity at the centre of the Museum's ethos, they challenged us to push new boundaries.

To achieve this, the first six months of working on the project was all about listening, learning, and understanding the needs of an amazingly diverse audience through a programme of stakeholder engagement. There were more than 100 hours of consultation with over 200 individual stakeholders, from local SEND schools and groups, to help design the play they had always dreamed of being able to enjoy.

This process touched every part of the design on the micro and macro scale, from wide design themes, such as number, characteristics, and location of access points to site, right down to the smallest finishing touches. We baked their thinking into the fabric of the playground from the get-go, making the SEN features coherent and part of the narrative of the play, rather than adding it as a second thought.

The finished project is our most inclusive adventure play build to date, with 85% of the finished play accessible to wheelchair users and even more to those with additional needs.

You can see how it began to come to life through our CGI images

The Play

The Attack of the Kraken

The theming starts as you cross the beach to face the dreaded Cutty Shark. A tyrant of an early year’s area, providing opportunity for small children to slide and climb through the shark’s mouth and into the belly of the beast! They can also make mystical music on the bespoke Xylo-bone - designed to look like a fish skeleton, leftover from the beast's lunch!

Giant Compass

This fully accessible roundabout uses Greenwich to strike a meridian across the play area, with colourful markings set into the surface of the roundabout and the safety surfacing beyond, fully integrating the theme.

Ship's Wake

Using the Ship’s Wake, we created an accessible ramp to allow access to the upper level of the ship with play hot spots along the route: The Starfish Parade, a game designed for repetitive task-based play for those with profound needs, and a British Sign Language game.

The Shanty

Climb aboard the ship and explore play spaces above and below decks. With climbing, sliding and SEN play opportunities, The Shanty allows swashbucklers of all abilities to team up and repel the attack of the fabled Kraken!

A key feature is the multi-sensory Captain’s table – designed to match the layout of the play area itself, this entirely bespoke interactive game caters for all abilities. Conceptually bringing an old maritime map alive in 3d, it has finger mazes, braille dominoes (to explain the table to those with partial or no sight), and a sailing ship slider that allows visitors to plot their course from port to maritime destinations

The cargo hold below has pipe drum cannons and a wall of barrels – the perfect place to hide from other explorers – filled with a selection of contents to create depth, intrigue, and excitement.

Tentacle Tube Slide

Feature portholes are present along the length of the slide as you descend to the turmoil of the wild seas below, through the giant steel tube that mimics an attack on The Shanty from one of the Kraken’s tentacles. Once on terra firma visitors can return aboard via the barnacle climbing wall.

The Kraken

Rising from the depths to attack the explorer’s vessel, this giant beast provides tons of opportunity for physical and imaginative play. For the brave, there's the Krakens brain to play on: 4ft long with neon blue blood vessels and hanging brain tentacles you can swing on!

Tentacle Towers

An extension of the Kraken is the giant tentacled towers, where you can climb and wind your way through its multiple limbs.

More than inclusive - Enjoy the journey AND the destination

One of the key feedback items from the stakeholders was that inclusivity can often mean token or inclusivity as an afterthought. Yes, a wheelchair user can get access to areas, but there is literally nothing to do on the way, or even when you get there.

We aimed to overcome this by making the journey to a new area an integral part of the playground. The accessible ramps twist and turn for a more exciting expedition to add interest. On the Shanty there’s The Starfish Parade, a game designed for repetitive task-based play for those with some of the most profound needs. There's a ships bell, a giant ships wheel to allow you to take the helm, and telescopes to watch for invaders amidships.

In addition, we've installed a fully accessible roundabout and a sunken trampoline, all beautifully themed. Plus, you can climb the Kraken on their ultra-high contrasting yellow handholds and engage in the BSL (British Sign Language) game that introduces a non-binary character to interact with.

The whole space has been co-created with by our own design and build teams, as well as the people who we're hoping will love it and use it – week in, week out.

As one final touch, we created the sea creatures that the stakeholders from the special school designed themselves, and each of them are named on the sensory planting boxes, so they genuinely own the play. And for when it the play becomes too much, or you just need to chill, we used designed the alcove to become a chill out be that quiet safe space for them, where we have engraved sea shanties into the benches, so everyone can have a sing song together.

Inclusive play is incredible. Children don't see disabilities, they see that we have created the ability to play together with everyone, whatever their ability. Everything has been designed to get encourage all abilities playing together. To be truly inclusive, everyone must come away with the same play experience, which means a playground should offer a level of challenge to ALL abilities, including SEN users.

Welcome to The Cove at the National Maritime Museum.

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