EAC Early Learning Reference Design

The development of an innovative external space reference design to address the requirement for the 1,140hrs service delivery.

In early 2018, Hirst Landscape Architects were invited by Hub South West and the Scottish Futures Trust to take part in a pilot study with East Ayrshire Council (EAC) aimed at developing an exemplar scheme for a typical external play space associated with a nursery.  This was in anticipation of the Scottish Government’s Intention to increase the level of free entitlement to Early Learning and Childcare from its current 600 hrs to 1,140 hrs by 2020. This initiative will obviously have significant implications for investment in infrastructure and in new, innovative models of delivery.  We worked closely with EAC and the Care Inspectorate to develop a reference design, employing strategies and design principles which could be applied across a range of situations to reflect the aspirations of the guidance contained within the Inspectorate’s publication, ‘Space to Grow’ (view here).  Our solution was to create the illusion of a wilderness where children could immerse themselves in an environment which was both safe and exciting, as a seamless extension to the facilities available indoors.

A full description of our proposals and the final scheme (which included a building designed by Chartered Architects, Anderson Bell Christie) is available to view online and a copy of the report is also available to download from Scottish Futures Trust website.

In recognition of the importance of outdoor experiences to learning and developmental outcomes, it is the Government’s view that children’s increased use of suitable outdoor areas and the improvements to the quality and accessibility of outdoor space, will enable qualifying nurseries to increase their total capacities by 20% over and above the total registered number of children.

Excitingly, Hirst Landscape Architects were subsequently retained by East Ayrshire Council to develop detailed schemes for 13 sites throughout the district, 3 of which are new-build options.  We are also currently developing designs for 9 new facilities for North Lanarkshire Council. Whilst every scheme is unique and reflects the particular nuance of the locale; each includes the same range of elements and features, albeit with subtle differences, to enrich the play and learning experience of the children.

We can’t wait to see the playgrounds emerge and evolve as the nurseries take ownership and personalise the facilities.


East Ayrshire


East Ayrshire Council