The problem

Watford has a population of 96,700, 51% females and 49% males. 1 in 5 adults in Watford are classed as obese and 34.8% of year 6 young people are overweight or obese. 26.7% of residents are classed as inactive (less than 30 mins a week). 13.7% (16+) of the population have a long-term illness or disability. 38.2% residents are BAME communities. Watford Council’s is keen to increase participation in sport and physical activity within a thriving and vibrant sporting infrastructure. Oxhey Activity Park was designed to support this vision by creating a major resource which would encourage a more active lifestyle for the whole community.

The scheme supports the Sports & Physical Activity Development Framework which aspires to deliver “Affordable, accessible and appropriate sports and physical activity opportunities for everyone”.

The main objectives of the framework include:

  • Improve quality of life of residents through a vibrant, collaborative and targeted approach to the delivery of sport and physical activity programmes and opportunities.
  • Enhance the health and well-being of residents by reducing inactivity levels.
  • Strengthen sporting infrastructure by supporting community sports clubs and the volunteer workforce.
  • Match sports development programmes to major sports facilities investment.

The Solution

Oxhey Activity Park aspired to create one of the most innovative environments for wheeled sports and play in Europe. Facilities were designed to maximise participation of all ages, genders and abilities. Each feature has been carefully positioned to encourage users to progress from one space to another as well as try new activities.

The development also includes a café with a riverside terrace, accessible adventurous play facilities, improved walking and cycling routes as well as a range of biodiversity improvements which will enhance the River Colne corridor.

Key masterplan objectives were to:

  • create a welcoming and innovative environment for a variety of accessible wheeled sports activities in which all user groups of all ages and abilities could explore and challenge themselves
  • encourage use of all activities by lower participant groups such as teenage girls as well as users who typically would not embrace structured physical activity or sport
  • create adventurous play that pushes the boundaries of risk and inclusive play design
  • include improved walking and cycling routes throughout the park
  • enhance biodiversity across the site and within the River Colne wildlife corridor. Over 500 trees were planted, long lived species and drought resistant plants were chosen including grasses and wildflowers
  • ensure sustainable drainage features cater for all drainage, including flooding in storm events
  • design a Café that relates well to its riverside location and helps link Oxhey Activity Park with adjacent Oxhey Park
  • provide accessible facilities, changing places and accessible parking

Caroline Roche, Sports and Physical Activity Development Manager, commented:

“Oxhey Activity Park was designed and adapted to encourage activity in people’s everyday lives, making the active choice the easy choice, creating healthy and sustainable communities. The park plays an important role in the council enabling it to be able to provide a strong sporting offer, which can play an significant role for social change, particularly around health and well- being; social inclusion; community cohesion; crime and disorder reduction; educational attainment; skills development and employability”.

Site Challenges

Key challenges that had to be addressed were:

  • the need to satisfy the Environment Agency’s requirements, as the site lies within a public aquafer (Source Protection Zone 1 –most sensitive) and Flood Zone 3 (most sensitive).
  • Levels could not be built up due to compensatory storage required for flood prevention.
  • Ensuring non- hazardous and hazardous material was kept on site to reduce environmental impact and tipping costs. Through careful material management, costs have been kept to a minimum which as a worst case could have escalated to £1,750,000
  • As the works proceeded, cost comparisons were made and the design was revised to avoid the hotspots of material found wherever possible
  • integrating a range of facilities within a relatively small area on a long thin site (450m x 85m) avoiding conflicts between different users, incorporating a complex number of facilities while allowing space for general recreation and dog walking
  • determining the optimum location of café, overriding factor being its relationship with adjacent Oxhey Park and connecting bridge as against street visibility, proximity of services and ease of deliveries
  • ensuring facilities were delivered following extensive consultation with a variety of stakeholders

Masterplan Layout

  • The layout is inspired by the meandering course of the River Colne, the main pedestrian route leads from the main entrance, with branches off to the facilities either side.

Southern Green was commissioned as Lead Consultant and Landscape Architect to develop detailed proposals for Oxhey Activity Park on the redundant Gaelic Football pitch and administer the contract on site. Southern Green Ltd collaborated with The Freestyle Collective to develop designs for wheeled sports facilities and these were carefully integrated into the new parkland setting.

Architecture offices involved in the design (Xsite Architects – Café designers):

Project Location: Oxhey Activity Park, Watford, WD18 0HZ, Uk – The Park is located close to Watford town centre adjacent to the Ebury Way, a cycle route which links parks and open spaces through the Colne Valley. Oxhey Activity Park is adjacent to Oxhey Park, which is located across the River Colne, with footbridge connecting the two parks.

Design year: 2018 – 2019

Year Built: 2020-2021

Recent Awards:

2021 – Landscape Institute Awards – Excellence in Public Health and Wellbeing – Winner

2021 – Building Futures Awards Project of the Year – Landscape Design Award – Winner

2021 – Building Futures Awards – Design Excellence – Shortlisted (in collaboration with Xsite Architecture)

Project value : £3.6m

Oxhey Activity Park – Links to digital media

Oxhey Activity Park © Take Action Media

Oxhey Activity Park ©The Freestyle Collective

Tomas Woods (Britain’s first Wheelchair MX champion – Oxhey Activity Park ©The Freestyle Collective

Oxhey Activity Park Drone Photography ©The Freestyle Collective

Oxhey Activity Park ©Watford Borough Council

Oxhey Activity Park ©Watford Borough Council


LILA 2024 Sponsor