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Refurbished ‘Ark Park’ opens at Children’s Ark in University Hospital Limerick

THE newly refurbished playground and outdoor park at the Children’s Ark unit in University Hospital Limerick was opened on Friday November 6th by Askeaton teenager Lauren McGrath.

At a special socially-distanced ceremony in gloriously crisp and dry conditions, the beautiful slides, climbing apparatus and play areas gleamed in the mid-day sun as Lauren cut the ribbon, watched by her proud mum June and delighted Ark staff and hospital management.

The original playground was developed as part of the Children’s Ark, a bright, child-friendly paediatric unit that was originally built 20 years ago, with the support of fundraising and donations from many individuals and companies in the Mid-West. In more recent years, the park has required an upgrade.

The refurbished Ark Park, is 1,250 square metres of colour and tranquillity, with a partially covered play area set amid landscaped green areas and flower beds, in the centre of the buildings that house the wards and offices of the Children’s Ark unit.

Visitors are greeted by a beautifully sculpted Garden Fairy perched atop a wooden toadstool in the flowerbed near the entrance, and the entire area is intended to deliver a heartening, refreshing boost to the spirits for children and parents, as well as staff, who need some time out from the hospital environment to relax and recharge.

The main climbing frame and slide area, sheltered from the elements by two huge white canopies, forms the shape of a ship, a visual tribute to the Ark that is its permanent harbour. There are seats amid the carefully manicured green areas and flowerbeds with hydrangeas and other flowering plants that will pop with colour and scent during the summer

HSE Childrens Ark Playground
Lauren McGrath (15) from Askeaton, County Limerick, with her mum June (right) opens the refurbished Ark Park inclusive play area at the Children’s Ark in UHL on November 6th. Also pictured at the socially distanced opening ceremony were (from left) Orlaith McMahon, Play Specialist, Children’s Ark, UHL; Dr Siobhan Gallagher, Clinical Director, Maternal and Child Health Directorate, UL Hospitals Group; Niall Joyce, Building Services Manager, UL Hospitals Group; and Kris Buckley, Senior Play Specialist, Children’s Ark, UHL.

Clinical Director of the Maternal & Child Care Directorate, UL Hospitals Group, Dr Siobhan Gallagher, said that the refurbished Ark Park fulfilled a number of important objectives: “Throughout the design we paid special attention to the provision of play for children with disability and the need for inclusive play and access for all.”

Dr Gallagher paid tribute to the people of the Mid-West who have raised so much money for the project over the past number of years, the businesses in the region for their donations and support, and staff and management across the UL Hospitals Group community.

“This development is the culmination of around four years work, but the fundraising and planning has been going on behind the scenes for about the past eight years. And when you look at what we have here now, it’s so tranquil that it’s different to believe that we are right in the heart of a busy hospital community,” Dr Gallagher added.

Kris Buckley, Senior Play Specialist at the Children’s Ark, describes the Ark Park as “an oasis”.

“This kind of atmosphere, an oasis in the middle of the hospital, is so important for the overall wellbeing of children and their parents, and also the staff. It gives them a unique opportunity to walk outside in the fresh air and get away from the noise and bustle of the hospital environment,” Kris explained.

June McGrath, who has been bringing her daughter Lauren to UHL for the past 11 years was delighted to watch Lauren perform the official opening honours.

“It’s lovely to be here today for Lauren to open the new park. We’ve been coming here since Lauren was 3, and it’s just so lovely to have a new park where children, especially those who are in for long periods of time, and their parents, can get out in the fresh air. It’s so important for the mental health to get outside, breathe the fresh air, and have a bit of fun. If you don’t have that opportunity, the walls can really close in on you,” June said.

“The old park was past its best, and this one is completely wheelchair accessible, so Lauren will be able to scoot out here on her wheelchair, especially if she has to wait for an appointment. She’ll actually look forward to coming in now. It’s not all about dressings and needles,” June added.

Dr Gallagher and Kris Buckley expressed their gratitude to all within and outside the hospital community whose collective input had brought the project to fruition, including UL Hospitals Group CEO Colette Cowan and hospital management; countless consultants, doctors and nursing staff for their ideas and enthusiasm; ULHG Buildings Manager, Larry Murphy, who secured funding for the canopy coverings; Building Services Officer, Niall Joyce, who project managed the park to perfection; and the UHL maintenance crew, who had served the project without fail.

Christy Hanbury and his team at Creative Play Solutions were praised for the care and attention to detail of their work, in addition to crane operators and Core Landscaping, all of whom readily contributed additional time out of good will towards the initiative. Dr Gallagher also thanked Limerick Live 95FM for contributing to the new indoor Safe Play Area at the Children’s Ark, an aspect of the overall project that will enable children with physical disabilities to play safely; local companies such as Stryker, who make an annual contribution to services at the Children’s Ark; as well as too many HSE staff to mention who have raised money for the Ark in general and this project in particular.

“It is difficult to adequately summon the scale of the support of the hospital and HSE community towards the Children’s Ark, and initiatives such as the Ark Park. Along with the incredibly generous fundraising efforts of the people of the Mid-West, this support has made such an enormous contribution to the children here and their families. Without it, we wouldn’t be able to do what we do,” Dr Gallagher added.