THEY were once the preserve of young children: enclosed play areas where they could safely enjoy themselves.
But now hi-tech “play pods” designed for teenagers have started to spring up across Scotland.
The innovative steel structures – lit by LEDs – provide shelter and allow youngsters to listen to music from their mobile phones on loudspeakers embedded in their roofs.
Their lighting and sound systems are usually powered by a hand-cranked battery – with the crank located on a central pillar – much like a wind-up radio, though some have solar panels on their roofs.
However, opinion is divided over such “pod youth shelters”, which have proved popular in some areas but been hit by repeated vandalism in others.
The pods, which cost up to £15,000, have so far been installed in Aberdeen and Carrbridge, near Aviemore.
North Lanarkshire Council has one at Carfin and plans another in the Pather area of Wishaw next year.
They are among 38 recently installed across the UK.
The pods use Bluetooth wireless technology to transmit music from mobiles to three integrated speakers. Youngsters input a code marked on the shelter to connect their phone to the pod. Five minutes of turning the hand-crank generates enough power for one hour of music.
The physical exertion required is seen as both helping children to get fit and learn about technology – which they control without supervision. The volume and time limits on its operation can be pre-set to restrict use.
The pods’ angled panels and rubber seals are also designed to reduce noise to the outside.
Inside there are two tiers of seats, and the upper walls are open so those inside are not hidden from view.
Youngsters in Carrbridge said they had enjoyed their shelter since it arrived in the village’s play park last year, thanks to a community fundraising campaign.
Becci, 15, said: “It’s somewhere to go so we don’t have to stay at home. It’s great to be able to play music, because the sound quality on phones is bad but it’s pretty good in the pod.”
Joe, 15, said: “It’s pretty cool. If someone has got a new song, everyone can now hear it.”
Alice, 16, said: “It’s popular with all ages, but particularly secondary school kids.
“But you could put a window over the open bits as it can get pretty cold.”
Carrbridge youth worker Keith Bootle said: “We looked at various options for a shelter. When the teenagers were told about the Bluetooth one, they immediately said ‘That’s the one we want’.
“The sound isn’t particularly loud and it’s far enough away from buildings not to cause a nuisance. You see kids using it most nights.
“Youngsters previously hung around the bus shelter, which was occasionally vandalised, but that hasn’t happened since. The pods have potential for rural areas with very few facilities.”
However, Carfin’s pod has suffered persistent attacks by vandals trying to set light to it, leading to local opposition.
Councillor Helen McKenna said: “It’s been a focus for vandalism and attracted folk from all over.”
But a spokesman for North Lanarkshire Council said: “Evaluating the success or otherwise of innovative recreational equipment can be quite difficult, especially when considering the teenage group it’s aimed at.
“There was some vandalism, but this has been repaired and the pod remains in use.
“However, the local community in Pather are keen to try it as part of a new play equipment installation.”
Vandalism also initially blighted Scotland’s first pod, which was installed in the Torry area of Aberdeen in 2011.
It was funded by Aberdeen City Council and the former regional police and fire services to provide shelter from the harsh east coast weather, but was damaged by vandals.
A council spokesman said: “Unfortunately, the pod has since been vandalised and, while the structure remains intact and in use, the Bluetooth element is out of operation.”
Torry councillor James Kiddie said: “There was some initial vandalism, but since then I have not received any adverse criticism from the local community.
“This was very much a joint venture by various authorities to provide young people with their own meeting space and it appears to have continued to work well.”
Joe Duffy, managing director of pod makers Sutcliffe Play (Scotland), admitted the pods would not suit all parts of the country. He said: “Teen shelters are frowned upon in some areas because they bring kids together, and some people don’t want them.”
Keith Irving, head of Living Streets Scotland, which campaigns for “safe, attractive and enjoyable streets”, said it was crucial such equipment was properly managed. He said: “We want public spaces to be welcoming to everyone, and our streets feel safer when there are more people of all ages using them at all times.
“Our experience is that new facilities must be carefully designed and managed, with direct involvement of the young people expected to use them so they have a sense of ownership over the space.
“We know that new facilities located in inconspicuous areas, without a sense of ownership, may unfortunately become a focus for antisocial behaviour, making the space unwelcome for other people of any age.”