Swinging into an inclusive community
Inspired by her son, Marcus, Caroline Ghatt took charge in solving childhood exclusion and isolation in Northern Sydney and, in doing so, changed the way we think of play.
The Northern Sydney local’s son had a disability which presented itself with several difficult challenges, sadly meaning he was not able to use a playground the same way other children did.
“We stopped going to playgrounds when Marcus was very young because there was nothing that he could play on,” Caroline says.
“Our son used a wheelchair, and you have to think about every small thing, and it becomes really hard, you know when you just want to, as everyone does, fit in and belong in the local community.”
“Play For All Australia began in 2016 as a Facebook community group, and originally began as a response to the upgrade of a local playground.”
When Caroline voiced her concerns to her local council that the designs did not cater for children with a disability, it ultimately led to policy change across the North Shore and the Northern Beaches.
She recalls thinking, ‘Well hang on a sec, is that as much as we should do?’, before assembling a small group of motivated individuals to put their heads together and reimagine a broader, more inclusive community.
So began Play For All Australia – a for-purpose social enterprise, working with councils and communities to dial up inclusive play.
Caroline stresses how important a playground is for a growing child’s experiences and learning opportunities.
“It really is a world of social connections for both them and the parent, accessibility is one important part, but inclusion is the other side of that coin,” she says.
Marcus sadly passed away in 2019 at the age of 12. Caroline and her husband Tim say their mission is to create inclusive play spaces where everyone can get involved in honour of Marcus’ legacy.
“When it comes to children, playgrounds are such a vital part of the community and until we had our daughter in 2015, I had no idea how much that playground experience contributes to children and their parents,” Caroline explains.
“We know from research that the earliest years of a child’s life are so critical for their lifelong development.”
Caroline explains that social isolation can have the same detrimental impacts on a person’s health as smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day.
“So, if you are isolated or excluded through no fault of your own, unfortunately you are already at a disadvantage,” she says.
“Our journey with our son has taught us that you can’t wait for other people to change stuff for you, you have to be part of that solution.”
In 2021 Caroline, her husband Tim, and her team at Play for All launched Play it Forward – an initiative to place 12 inclusive swing sets around the North Shore.
“The idea behind it is to create an educational social inclusion program that gives all children, regardless of their ability, the same opportunity, play and belonging in their community.”
To allow the community to get involved and spread a message of inclusion, a smart swing was installed at Balmoral Beach playground in Mosman.
A built-in counter records every swing. The more swings made, the faster the sponsored inclusive swing seat upgrades are delivered to the community.
“It becomes a fun challenge, as we could have just gone and put the swings in parks which is great, but we would be missing out on that opportunity for community engagement on what it means to be included,” Caroline says.