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Lappset’s Tero Ylinenpää on Spain’s Senior Play Park Boom

With a mission to ‘invite mankind outside’, Lappset has been in the business of play for 45 years. They have been quick to respond to the ageing demographic, creating a range of senior play equipment.

Supported by enlightened healthcare policy-making from the Spanish authorities and a favourable climate, the huge popularity of senior parks surprised even Lappset who investigated further.

LappsetSo, what lessons can we learn about how to approach creating products and experiences for our seniors?

Blooloop spoke to CEO Tero Ylinenpää (left) about health, happiness and even a hint of romance in Spain’s Senior Parks.

Baby Boomers

In the UK, the baby-boom generation accounts for around 50% of all consumer spending and holds 76% of the nation’s wealth.

They have more leisure time and better health to enjoy it.

This generation is also more tech-savvy and has,  for instance,  embraced online shopping.  The UK media regulator, Ofcom, predicts that by the end of 2016, 44% of over 55s will own a tablet device.  Gaming arcades in Japan are reporting a surge in elderly visitors who are bored with traditional entertainment and use the video game centres as social hubs.

With the sector growing year on year, it’s hardly surprising that attractions have started to take notice.

Some experiences have are already started to think about the more negative aspects of ageing and the challenges of accessibility.  The Minneapolis Institute of Art has introduced Discover Your Story Tours – an initiative to stimulate the memories of people with Alzheimer’s by presenting them with sensory items connected with the exhibits.

But what about the thousands of seniors who are mentally alert, physically active and keen to stay that way? Is the industry missing a trick?

Lappset's Tero Ylinenpää on Spain's Senior Play Park Boom

Lappset and Senior Play

Finnish play equipment manufacturer, Lappset, has taken an active approach to the senior market, creating a popular network of senior ‘play’ parks across Europe, most notably in Spain.

The family-owned company, with its headquarters near the Arctic Circle in Rovaniemi, was founded in 1970 by Antero Ikäheimo.  He developed a range of wooden play equipment. This was with the intention of creating a new kind of play environment. One where children could develop strength and balance as they played.

Having joined the company in 1994, Ylinenpää became CEO in 2014. “At the beginning, Lappset was mainly providing playgrounds for public parks and housing areas. it also different kinds of street furniture. And then we came to the 90s. We then started to focus more on the fact that children spend too much time on computer games. They don’t exercise enough.

“So, we started to look at how could we help people, especially children, to develop their social, cognitive, physical and motor skills, and to encourage them to be more physically active and to exercise and move every day so that they would feel better for the future.”

It was at end of the 90s that Antero Ikäheimo and his brother, Risto began to consider the need to respond to an ageing demographic:

“We needed to develop concepts for outdoor use for not only children, but teens, adults and seniors.”

Lappset's Tero Ylinenpää on Spain's Senior Play Park BoomSmartUs

“In around 2000, we started a large cross-disciplinary research project together with a few universities and Rovaniemi Polytechnic, and started a project called SmartUs, ” says Ylinenpää.

SmartUs grew from the idea of getting kids outdoors through gaming. After four years of research with universities and experts on education and fitness, it was released in Europe in 2006. A kinaesthetic learning experience, SmartUs uses technology to link the playground and its users. it does this by offering interactive games and well-being applications for all ages and special groups.

“In that project our aim was to create a learning environment outdoors. This would mean that students at schools and kindergarten could study maths, English, History etc outdoors. They coud do this at the same time as they were running and climbing and jumping, and to integrate technology into that.

“We have to accept that technology is a part of everyday life – so let’s use it, ” he says.

One of the company’s sub-projects was to research how it could create an environment where both young children and their grandparents could play together: “That was how we eventually developed the concept for senior and elderly people.”

So, the senior programme was begun in earnest, using scientific studies to understand how different kinds of simple exercise can help elderly people to improve their balance and mobility.

Lappset's Tero Ylinenpää on Spain's Senior Play Park Boom

Senior Play Success in Spain

The concept of senior parks was quickly embraced in Spain. Lappset has created nearly 1000 in Catalonia alone.

“I think that the key point there was that, first of all, our own subsidiary, Lappset Spain, understood the opportunity and committed to the project at a very early stage, contacting the pioneer customer who wanted to test this kind of concept. That was a success, and the other municipalities near Barcelona started to want to have similar parks built.”

Of course the favourable climate helps, but, as Ylinenpää points out, there have been successful installations in Sweden and, of course, Finland, where it is winter for six months of the year.  The company has also been approached about similar projects in the UK.

Ylinenpää is more inclined to attribute the parks’ success to the comprehensive nature of Lappset’s offering.

“I think the main thing is that we have not been only selling products. We have also employed physiotherapists so that we don’t only offer the product and installation. We also offer the services.

“When we have installed the senior play park, we arrange together with the client for the physiotherapist we employ to attend, say, twice a week, to guide and teach residents and locals how to use the equipment to exercise. This has created the culture that people come and exercise there. I think that has been the main point in making it such a success.”

Lappset's Tero Ylinenpää on Spain's Senior Play Park Boom

Government Support for Senior Play

Another factor vital to the project’s success in Spain has been the positive attitude of the country’s departments responsible for healthcare and working with the elderly.  They have been quick to take action to prevent negative health consequences further down the line.

“Therefore we should build an environment where people can easily exercise and improve balance and improve mobility. These are simple exercises that help elderly people to be more independent.”

Designing for Seniors

Lappset’s senior park equipment is meticulously researched and specially tailored and designed for elderly people.

“The senior play equipment itself is quite simple, ” explains Ylinenpää. “The components that we use are, mainly, the same components that we use with our playgrounds.

“But when we are designing solutions and products for elderly people, they are always low-level. For example there are no high towers or anything like that.

“We had a group of elderly people, together with six and seven-year-old children, and they did many different kinds of things together. That enabled us to create solutions that help elderly people to exercise. We also employed a number of sports scientists specialising in motor skills, and that helped us to improve our own competence.”

Lappset's Tero Ylinenpää on Spain's Senior Play Park Boom

Companionship and Senior Play

The one aspect he didn’t plan for was that the parks would spark romance.  Some are finding the parks an ideal venue to meet potential partners.

“When you meet other people and you do things together, it makes the activity more social, ” agrees Ylinenpää.  “I think these people, rather than looking for romance, are looking for companionship. Often, elderly people are lonely. If they can find new companions, new contacts, it improves their lives, and that’s really fantastic.”

His views are supported by the online dating sector, which has seen a boom in the sites catering to seniors. The older generation isn’t dwelling on the past. It is looking to the future. This is opening up opportunities for those who are quick to spot gaps in the market.

Interest in more adventurous pursuits such as abseiling, sky-diving and sailing by this age group is growing all the time. In 2014, the Association of British Travel Agents reported that baby boomers were the only age group to have upped the average number of holidays they take every year. Personal trainers report that their services are requested by over-55s like never before.

“Our mission is to invite mankind outdoors: we want to make people of all ages more active today, to promote a healthier tomorrow, ” says Ylinenpää.

Lappset are clearly bang on the money. It seems the grey euro isn’t so grey after all.

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