Dr Damien Puddle has quite a task ahead of him – he has been hired to help transform Invercargill into an urban playground. It might sound like the subject of a children’s book, but for Puddle, it’s a dream come true. There’s a reason why he’s known as “Dr Play”.
Puddle’s background is drenched in all things play. He gained a PhD in Parkour from the University of Waikato in 2019. Parkour is a type of sport that requires participants to get from one place to another in the fastest way possible, and often includes climbing, jumping and flipping.
He became involved in a pilot initiative while working for Sport Waikato called Healthy Active Learning. “Play was the best part of this role and I was subsequently successful in being the first Local Play Advocate to spearhead Sport NZ’s Local Play Advocate workforce project.”
Following this, Puddle became the Local Play Advocate for the Hamilton City Council, the first role of its kind for any New Zealand council. Here he made public spaces more creative and fun for all ages – a skill he will now bring to Invercargill. During his time in Hamilton, he get play embedded in more than 12 strategies, plans and policies to ensure that play was part of all aspects of Council.
Play is a huge part of Puddle’s life, both at work and outside it. He is the chief executive of Parkour NZ, the past Direction then chief executive of Parkour Earth, and also offers coaching when he isn’t participating in the sport itself.
Puddle came on board with the Invercargill City Council in September to join Open Spaces and Recreation Strategic Advisor Chris Bowen’s team in Parks. He has been tasked with two projects so far – the writing of a city-wide Play Strategy, and the City Centre Urban Play project.
The aim of the projects are to transform our streets from car dominated environments to places for people.
Puddle is currently working remotely from his home in Hamilton, but makes regular visits to Invercargill. In December he, his wife, three daughters, and his dog, will make a permanent move to the Deep South.
Although he is primarily based in the Queens Park offices, he will be working with teams across Council to ensure play outcomes are embedded into their areas of work and influence.
Puddle will be with Council on a two-year fixed term basis.