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Combining the benefits of physical play through developing a low-cost system that facilitates environmental education.

Funded by: Global Challenge Research Fund, Research England

Partners: ATIVA Design Consultancy, Delhi, Vahani Scholarship Trust

Team: Heath Reed, Andy Stanton

This interdisciplinary project, led by Design researchers from Lab4Living (Heath Reed and Andy Stanton) working in partnership with local and international partners in India, have developed and installed, the first of its kind energy harnessing playground that stimulates crop growth as children play and learn. The project has been funded through Research England (E3) and UKRI’s Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF). 

The research explores how specially designed play equipment, can optimise the power generated from children’s play to sustain hydroponic and conventionally grown crops, to improve physical and nutritional health, while linking to the taught Education syllabus.

The pilot playground garden was developed and installed, in collaboration with local communities, in a school in Uttar Pradesh, India and since been rolled out to another school in Delhi for evaluation. Lab4Living have a MoU with India’s Green Rating for Integrated Habitat Assessment (GRIHA) Council to help promote the Playponics concept across India.

In 2023 Lab4Living secured a UKRI KTP award in partnership with the Business School at SHU, with local manufacture Lightmain Ltd. The KTP aims to develop the Playponics principle to a range of their Playground products.

The project was awarded SHRIF funding from the Sheffield Hallam Research Innovation Fund (SHRIF) that formalised a collaboration between Lab4Living, the Advanced Wellbeing Research Centre (AWRC) and the National Centre for Excellence in Food Engineering (NCEFE) to progress the research. AWRC will be quantifying data that provides evidence for the health benefits of physical activity, while NCFE are helping test suitable nutritional crops for a UK environment. The project engages a school in the culturally diverse and socially and economically challenged community of Darnall Sheffield where half the households in the ward are estimated to be in poverty with poor health.

Playponics has recently been nominated for a 2024 Earthshot prize.

The project exemplifies how the College (SSA), through Lab4Living, is contributing innovative and preventative approaches to Health and Wellbeing that challenges the medical model. Playponics demonstrates active interdisciplinary collaborations across the University. The project engages with local Sheffield communities and local industry and supports the University’s vision to Transform Lives, enhance connectivity between research and teaching and create social and economic impact.