I love Holland, I love the Dutch. They have a wonderful culture of exploration. Their love of the outdoors, particularly when on a bike, is well known. But every time I go to Holland I discover something new and interesting which leaves me thinking, ‘if only we had that in the UK…’
A recent visit to the Discovery Centre in Dieren perhaps topped all previous experiences. When you arrive, it doesn’t appear much to look at, until you realise that the whole place is made of recycled materials. And I do literally mean the whole place. To give an idea of the scale, there is play equipment for children and an indoor activity centre that could comfortably entertain for a whole day. This makes you think that what you are about to experience is going to be a little different. Legoland this ain’t – its not shiny, polished or slick but it is brilliant and engaging.
And it is when you head indoors that you really see why. I have recently been working on a job for the London Legacy Development Corporation which looked at the potential for makerspace on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. This type of space is growing in popularity, particularly where access to ‘have a go’ tools and machinery is provided for the public. One of the key messages from experts taking forward makerspaces is that this needs careful management when people are coming in to use heavy machinery. Yet at the Discovery Centre kids of any age were given the chance to use drills, saws and all manner of equipment to make. Some things were restricted to those over the age of ten, but that was about as far as the limitations went. What there wasn’t any sign of was the staff standing over every child, performing risk assessments. And this worked. Kids were discovering and making and creating all over the place. And, in the time we spent there, no limbs were accidentally hacked off.
This is not a blog about health-and-safety culture. Rather it is about a culture that encourages engagement with the world around it, without instilling fear in parents and children alike. When we left, I saw another classic Dutch sight – a large (and I mean properly large) playground full of children and parents enjoying what is seen in Holland as a social norm; playing together, exploring together, being together. The Dutch planning system has many of these traits underpinning it and it shows – so much in Holland works. Maybe as a passionate cyclist I’m biased, but I’ll wager you won’t get too many UK planners fundamentally disagreeing. So maybe, if only we had that culture of discovery in the UK then it would spread to our planning system and we would genuinely plan with a spirit of positivity.