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Better play leads to increased profits

Child's play is serious business.

Timberplay are a Sheffield-based organisation who resell high-quality German play equipment, adding value with child-focussed, play-led design, advice and installation expertise to a wide client base of British organisations. 

Revenue comes from design and build contracts, as well as supply-only orders. Clients include local authorities, schools, the Forestry Commission, the National Trust and private leisure clients such as Centre Parcs. 

Some of the seminal play areas they have helped create —such as the Diana Memorial Playground at Kensington, the newly opened Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and the treetop walkways at Alnwick Gardens — set a high bar for quality and experience.

However, difficult market conditions and cuts in public sector spending over the last few years left the SME, which has 27 employees and a turnover of £3.4 million, needing to diversify to survive. That challenging situation was the basis of Timberplay’s interest in establishing a Knowledge Transfer Partnership which could help them to tackle the changing market and secure a competitive advantage.

What we did

KTP Associate Beth Cooper, whose specialism is in Play Environments (with an interest in Organisation Development), worked with academic supervisor Professor Perry Else, who has more than 25 years’ experience in the field of playwork and the children’s workforce. Working closely with Timberplay, and drawing on Perry’s specialist expertise in the field, Beth developed an assessment tool which effectively measures the value of play environments.

'The assessment tool – Simply Play - has really had an impact on our approach,' said Paul Collings. 'Prior to the KTP, we could truthfully claim to be leaders in the field of design and installation of equipment, but we didn't have any way of auditing the value of that play and how to apply that – for example, in understanding how children played and the variety of types of play depending on the abilities and confidence of the children involved. Now we can demonstrate clearly to customers what the benefits of their investment will be.'

The result

Not part of the original remit, an added bonus has been the development of an online version of Simply Play – creating interest beyond the UK from European and American organisations, as well as raising awareness outside the play sector, in the fields of planning and landscape architecture, for example.

Commercially, Simply Play has been a real success, generating larger shares of project value for the company and an involvement at earlier stage in large scale projects. One such example is Timberplay’s involvement in the development of the planning application for an iconic masterplan for a Children’s Space in London, an estimated £5 million redevelopment project with a potential £250,000 allocation for play.

Some of the other achievements of this innovative KTP programme include

  • increasing in profit of £350,000 three years after project completion
  • creating the opportunity to identify potential business leads through the Google Analytic data from the Simply Play website
  • raised profile nationally– Simply Play is included in the national guidance on designing for play and the play policy for Torbay
  • improved business and professional relationships throughout the sector, with new links in landscape architecture, for example

They say

Simply Play has, quite simply, allowed Timberplay to make step change. It’s expected to generate an additional £350,000 of profit in its first three years and has also raised our profile significantly. The KTP has also had a real impact internally, helping us develop a staff charter as part of our focus on the culture of the organisation and this has made a big difference to working practices and customer relations. Our staff understand clearly that what we do is much more than simply installing equipment and that’s changed how they approach their work.

Paul Collings, managing director, Timberplay

Find out more about Knowledge Transfer Partnerships

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