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Couple’s playground idea kicks off business venture
EVERYONE remembers the school playground for different reasons.
But there always seemed to be a ball game of some description taking place, with youngsters in loosely assembled teams charging around playing football or swinging a bat wildly in cricket.
The problem is that many others are sidelined, with little opportunity to partake in games of their own, but now a solution may have been found.
The Smooga system involves plastic interlocking panels which can be quickly assembled into arenas of different sizes, effectively cordoning off a section of the playground.
It can also offer younger children a safe place to play without being knocked over by their older peers.
Smooga director Keith Place said: “What we have identified is a real need – children are becoming lazier and doing less activity, which is adding to the obesity problem.
“Part of that comes down to schools and how they deliver sport.”
Mr Place’s wife, Carolyn, is a landscape architect and it was she who identified the problem of many pupils being marginalised by others playing team sports such as football in the playground.
That got Mr Place, 50, a trained sports coach and self-employed sales consultant, thinking and he started looking into producing a prototype system.
“I needed to create an arena that was fit for purpose and could be moved.
“I tested it at a couple of Oxford schools and they realised it could be an asset as an inclusive sporting facility.”
Having proved there was a demand, Mr Place found a British manufacturer to make the interlocking panels and started marketing the Smooga – an approximate acronym from smart multi-use games arena – to schools and sports clubs.
He added: “It has different sizes and shapes – people can have as many or as few panels as they wish. “One school wanted it for pre-school children, to give them a different space from the larger pupils.”
Another client has been the Oxfordshire Football Association, with the Smooga being used to create a training ground for girls.
Mr Place said: “Schools don’t know they need this product but it is quite an easy sell when I have a conversation with them. It’s just a question of making them realise it exists.”
Based in Standlake, his business started in September last year but the first few months were dedicated to organisation and product testing.
The concept was launched at the NEC Education Show in March and the product is now in 12 schools, with Mr Place looking to use Oxfordshire as a springboard for a national launch.
The starting price for a Smooga is £3,500, which Mr Place maintains is reasonable for a viable and flexible alternative for a school or club needing a new arena.
He added: “They are built to take some punishment, which is exactly what children mete out – they don’t want something that has to be handled with care. It is safe and very robust.”
Three core packages are currently available to create games areas from 12 metres by eight metres to 18 metres by 12 metres, not including goals.
Demand is growing and Mr Place already has expansion plans.
“We are looking at larger premises – it is a very exciting phase,” he said.
“But I also feel I am giving something back by getting more children into sport.”
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