Pioneering Bristol playground firm comes of age by staying true to its natural roots

December 15, 2023

The Bristol firm behind ‘purposeful playgrounds’ that have transformed schools, parks and leisure environments across the UK and beyond has celebrated its 21st anniversary.

Since its launch in 2002, TouchWood Play has gone from strength to strength, designing and building play areas for customers across the UK and in export markets, including Ireland and France.

Its playgrounds can be found in numerous schools, National Trust sites and shopping centres such as Bristol’s The Mall at Cribbs Causeway, and Bicester Village, pictured, as well as leading leisure spaces including the innovative leisure park Hobbledown Heath in London and Festyland in France.

TouchWood Play emerged from a desire by its founder Joe Cooper to bridge the gap between urban constructs and the natural world.

Joe’s journey began after university with a passion for traditional craftsmanship and locally sourced materials, culminating in an apprenticeship in Edinburgh.

He initially offered education workshops for individuals with no prior experience to learn the artistry of working with wood.

It was the alignment of these workshops with school playgrounds that sparked the inception of TouchWood Play.

Through close collaboration with schools, TouchWood set out to create bespoke playgrounds tailored to the unique needs of each community, an ethos that remains the cornerstone of the company.

From its first playground at Hotwells Primary School, TouchWood has been a self-funded enterprise, rooted in the use of local materials and labour, all the while giving back to the communities it serves.

The evolution of Joe’s original workshops into the TouchWood ‘Designing for Real’ initiative allows communities to participate in shaping their environments.

Reflecting on TouchWood’s journey, Joe said: “I feel like a proud parent. It reflects the hard work and talent of the many contributors who have been part of our journey.

“Today, our amazing team steers us into adulthood, taking on global ventures and working on acclaimed play areas, such as the Eden Project in 2023.

“Collaborating with customers who share and value our approaches and ideals remains our greatest joy.

“We’re proud to still call our original woodyard in Bower Ashton home. It’s where our roots are and it’s where our commitment to crafting purposeful play areas blossomed.”

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