Ask: a UK-Japan collaboration

Children benefit from being outside, interacting with their environment, learning from nature and developing through play. However, children’s environments have changed dramatically: there are fewer natural environments and increasingly parents discourage outdoor play. Therefore the promotion of better quality environments and more opportunities for play is a crucial issue for healthy growth of children in both the UK and Japan.

The Ask project was designed to find effective responses to these issues by working directly with children to understand their needs. It was a one year consultation project involving disabled and non-disabled children in the evaluation of public outdoor space. Proven techniques were used to ascertain the needs of all people, to inform future design and management decisions. Ask is funded by the Japan Foundation, the Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation and the Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation.

Boys jumping off a rock

The project involved four consultation programmes, at three sites in the UK and three in Japan, using proven techniques developed by Sensory Trust in the UK and the Association for Children’s Environment (ACE) in Japan. The voices of disabled children have often been neglected in consultation in both countries, and therefore not well represented in outdoor designs. Disabled and non-disabled children shared their opinions on site facilities, barriers to access, services and experience. Students and on-site staff also took an active role working with the children, allowing them to learn first hand how different peoples needs and experiences can be catered for in an outdoor environment.

Rhythm and literacy at Coombes school

Additional site surveys and interviews with specialists in this field helped build understanding of these issues in Japan and UK, and helped identify potential solutions. Site visits were undertaken to collect examples of good practice.

Sensory Trust ran this collaborative study with ACE. Sensory Trust first made contact with project partner, Dr Ko Senda, through support for his comparative research on school environments and children’s development in the UK and Japan. Sensory Trust has also provided design advice and presented at conferences in Japan, and ran UK-Japan study tours.


Development of skills and awareness: Site/project staff involved in the consultation gained techniques for improving the design and management of their sites, and skills for carrying out further consultation. Design guidelines help designers improve environmental sites for children.

Sharing information: The results of the project and examples of successful design, from both countries, are available to guide those planning new or modified outdoor designs.

UK-Japan understanding: By carrying out the same activities in both countries and sharing good practice. Japan and UK share the same problems relating to children’s disconnection from their environment and through the comparative study, it has been possible to share identify strategies that are relevant to both.

Ask conference in Tokyo

Dr Ko Senda talking about the Ask project.Sensory Trust and the Association for Children's Environment (ACE, Japan) held a successful one-day conference in Tokyo, Japan. "Learning from Nature: environmental facilities in UK and Japan" was attended by university professors and students, and practitioners from botanic gardens, museums, design firms, environmental groups, amusement parks, schools, local governments and disabled peoples' organisations.

Ask Project links

Association for Children's Environments

The Japan Foundation

Eden Project

Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation

GB Sasakawa Foundation