November 2008

Below is an email from Ian at Glamis, outlining some questions and concerns about the project. 

From: Glamis Adventure
Sent: 12 November 2008 15:53
To: Penny Wilson
Subject: Play q / rant from Ian

Hi Penny,

I welcome and support the Play Memories project.

It is a terrible inditment of society and the playwork profession that
the last place that we can imagine the Playwork Principles working is in

I agree that reclaiming the streets and other public areas to make
playable spaces is a far more valuable task for playwork than the
current focus on contained ghettos.  Ghettos where the needs of adults
especially employed playworkers will always prevail.

But whilst play memories can be a very powerful tool for promoting play
there are other reality’s:

*         memory is wonderfully subjective.  Ask about a play memory and
like a memory of school it’s the exciting, naughty rather than the dull
or conformist that we feel like promoting.  A lot of children were not
having such a good time, (what are they doing in the Osborn Street
window?).  A lot of children were excluded A lot of things are not
remembered or wont be told. Photos like memories are chosen.

I hope we don’t spend to much time revering a mythical arcadia.  Like
any missionaries the key is to insure that the message fits the local
reality. Tower Hamlets suffers from many things including misty eyed
missionaries and a view of the good-old-days. Check the jacket cover of
Family and Kinship in East London by Michael Young
and  Co. for a lovely image of play AND their latter book The “New East
End” for a blistering critic of the disruptive effect of interfering

*         There are still children who can’t play out. I like to think
of GAP being like a seed bank keeping an alternative alive in hostile
environment.  Yes I had a smile of recognition at the tribe of free
playing boys / tooled up rebel fighters roaming the estate on Bonfire
Night. But I also know that some of the reasons that this tiny minority
were out and other children were indoors are linked to fear of crime,
drugs and violence. These fears are legitimate.  And there was more
space, less cars and a more homogenous community. Childhood has as Sue
Parmer describes become a toxic mix of fear and consumerism.

*         What went wrong with the dream of the social engineers,
philanthropists, playworkers? (see “The New East End-“). Some of the
reasons for this lie in a miss understanding of the realities of power.
We are where we are architecturally and socially – there are very real
deep roots that effect the current state of play.  In our current
climate this means making subtle professional judgments. Playworkers
need to recognise where power lies it we are to affect change in a real
word owned, segregated and controlled by powerful interest groups.

*         For playworkers in our little ghettos papering over the chasms
in provision and trying to compensate for the sad lack of playable
spaces we can see our projects as oasis’s in a hostile environment so
children can experiment with things like digging holes, playing with
fire, having arguments and ‘just’ hanging out. This might sound easy but
this is not:

o        playworkers are badly paid, terribly managed and often totally
confused as to what thir role is as they attempt to deal with the
effects of a society that places so little value on children. Some
playworkers are faced with really aggressive behaviour  from children
and adults.

o        Who’s  needs? Real play opportunities for children need to be
bases on a thorough understanding of the Play Principles current
fixation with the new and innovative and following funding that is not
holistically play based has not helped). But we are were we are lets be
carful not to throw the baby out with the bath water –

Am I jaded or naive to worry about the play that would go on with the
fairy lights after Tinkerbelle has left?  No the Play Memories project
is managed by idealists with their feet on the ground and a real
understanding of the where we have come from, where we are now and where
we want to be.

Childhood memories can be an incredibly motivating force – I loved you
description of the eureka moment with the planning officer. I hope that
Play Memories stirs the imagination and pulls the heart and financial
strings of people in power so that playground eventually become

Lets make the future playful for the children of Sylhet farmers, labours
from Eastern Europe and cockneys.


Glamis Adventure Playground

And here is Penny’s response.  Feel free to contribute your own thoughts on this, and any questions you might have.  Like Obama, we will listen, especially when we disagree.

From: Penny Wilson

Sent: 12 November 2008 18:05
To: Penny Wilson
Subject: RE: Play q / rant from Ian

Ian. I agree with every word you say. These thoughts were an important
part of my thinking when the project was in its very long gestation

A playworker who I really value and respect made similar clear
criticisms of the project when I discussed it with her. She said that
play memories can be very ‘misty coloured’ and encourage ux to remember
not the way were actually were, but the sepia tinted version of a world
edited right through selective publication-the telling process.  I have
shared memories of play with folks from all over the world. Many times,
in each group, one becomes accutely aware that there are deep, hurting,
private memories which are not for publication. These unspoken thoughts
also feed the memory of the sentieny child. The thinking person, whole,
because of scale, is easier to treat as without emmotional
intelligence-as so often happens with childrenbwith disabilities. What I
never do is probe this moment. Not appropriate that. What I do do is
mention annecdotes about children working out their problems through
their play.. Using it as a self analytical tool, a way to understand the
harshness of their world/life experience. Play as a philosphical
language of childhood. If there were eureka moments before, they appear
again at this point.. Yes, playing does/did do that!
Add to this the traumatic interventions of war and architecture
splitting that cohesive community….



From: Penny Wilson
Sent: 07 November 2008 16:08
To: (People who work for Tower Hamlets and BBCC)
Cc: All blog readers
Subject: Malmesbury Estate.
Dear People,

It was so good to share the meeting with you this morning. This gate crashing was a level of cheekiness that I usually don’t attain, but I am glad that I did today.


Attached is a document that outlines the PlayTimes project that we are running in LAPs 5&6. these LAPs were identified as coming up completely bald on the mapping of play spaces conducted by PATH and LBTH in the play strategy research. They have similarly been identified in similar exercises by CABE space for the Olympic Play Places Mapping. In addition to the the weight of new build in the area will drastically increase the high levels of play deprivation already experienced  currently and historically by children who have grown and are growing in this area.

The implications of this are enormous.  As Playworkers we are concerned that a single child deprived of a free play experience grows up to be an unintegrated, emotionally and creatively illiterate and harming and harmful person. Imagine a whole estate full of play deprived children.  Elements of this  phenomena  are evident in the ASB that is manifesting itself on these estates where children and young people have had their play curtailed by the prevailing ethos that they are being a pain… they feel that they cannot play anywhere and belong no-where. How can they respect the space when the space has shown them no respect?

As well as that we are seeing a high incidence of children growing up utterly divorced from the natural world. The instinctive default setting of a child is to be enthralled and engaged with nature, exploring it in many different ways through every sense that they possess. Where play equipment is currently provided for these urban children they serve to decrease this innate Biophilia and create a fear and distrust of nature, biophobia. You can’t dig in wetpour.  You can’t find seasonal change in a fixed play structure. As I said when we met, these are a con-trick from unscrupulous play equipment manufacturers.

(It should be said that there is some good stuff out there, but it needs to be used in the right way. Please see the Play England Design Guidance for Playspaces.)

It is also important to re-enforce the fact that playspace should not be divided into age groups. A brand new Toddlers Play Ground in a space like (redacted) may arouse the local young people, who grew up on that space with only the wind blown crisp bags in the ‘Play space’ , to be jealous and resentful and ultimately, whether they are aware of it or not, to sabotage the teensy playspaces.  These little play areas also serve to re-enforce the urban myth that playing is simple a gross motor activity enjoyed, purely for mindless fun, by tiny children, pre-schoolers. in fact we are all inclined to remember our playing experiences as happening years earlier than they were actually lived. the play curve stretches well into teenage years.

I would make sure that on this estate in particular a very clear offer is made to children who are not toddlers. The natural playspaces will be accessible to all ages, and so they should be. However I like the idea of a legitimate kick about area on the periphery of the estate and the thought that a wheeled play space could be created on the ‘crazy’ paving on the Caxton Hall corner. I feel a similar offer should be made at other appropriate junctions on the estate to avoid the increasing East West divide that is being reported and unfortunately is being associated with race/colour/culture difference. These need not be a costly offer, neither should they be all sports courts and attractive only to boys. The ‘village green’ space outside the Temple could include a small area for this purpose.
There were two spaces around (redacted 2) that I wanted to bring to your attention.  There is a raised grassy verge running along the wall lining the walkway going towards the ball cage . This could be a very desirable strip of doorstep playspace. But it needs ‘punctum’. It needs some ‘there there’ (to borrow from Gertrude Stein.) This could be something as simple as creating a buttercup lawn on it. The other space is squeezed between two blocks east of the space that Juliah sees as an orchard. Again, this could be made lovely and playable with wildflower planting. Remember what I was saying about the natural elements providing seasonal ‘loose parts’ (In playwork terms these are bits and pieces of stuff that can be anything).

Two final thoughts.
One from a play consultant  called Tim Gill, he speaks of ‘playable spaces’. By this he means spaces which hold a variety of play offers. A small child can play with mates/sibs without an adult, but on the doorstep, close enough to be seen from a kitchen window..  for slightly older children, there is a little pool of a place nearby that they can playing a little bit more adventurously, but still overlooked, ‘held’ by the watching eyes. The older children can roam to a space where they can play independently, the ball court or adventure playground or nearby park-like space (very conveniently you have one at each end of this estate. It should be said that all of these playable spaces should be welcoming for play by elders and young parents etc. They should enhance the space for the whole community.

The final thought is that all playspaces should be compensatory environments. in an urban setting this means finding quirky ingredients, no branding, natural elements, attractive points of reference, a flexibility of use, curves and difference in texture and design, lighting that is beautiful in fact a great aesthetic all round, planting that can be pilfered for play, touched , smelt or eaten, as in the edible fence plan.  Kids should be able to find quiet space shade and shelter, an perhaps most important of all, they should feel that they are in a permissive welcoming space that is part of their home-life experience.

It should be noted that the architect of the Malmesbury Estate was, in the eyes of the playworker at least, a genius. Does anyone know who he/she was? I want to award a medal.

With best wishes and a huge amount of excitement.


Hello All,

Consider yourselves cc’ed into an internal email outlining our successes so far – and join in our happiness!


From: Penny

To: Rainer, Zoe, Morgan and PATH HQ

Subject: Project Update

Last week we opened up a new play space, Tic Tac Park.

We were so happy and proud of ourselves because the project was well and truly launched and we had had a success that we had not expected to experience for a few months yet, that is, a child space with child keyholders endorsed by the RSL and parents.


However, a week is a long time in playwork.

On Tuesday we had  our very first meeting with East End Homes and ended up being invited to design the three  playspaces on the British Street Estate. We plan to increase this to four play pools and a flowing playable stream. This ’ greening’ will be completed by June 09.

On the previous day the possibility of using the Archibald road site as the Pathfinder Adventure Playground was mooted. This will be decided for early action in the next financial year.

On Thursday, we were told by London Play that we had been successful in our application to develop two sites, in Hewlett Road and Sheffield Square, as natural play spaces. This work will be complete by the end of march.

This morning, I just happened to gate crash a meeting with Green Dreams and a regeneration officer from Tower Hamlets Homes.

Sit down my friends.

It would appear that the there is a large sum of section 106 funding that has to be spent on the Malmesbury Estate, mostly before then end of this financial year.

Some of this is required for practical considerations like mending broken rubbish bin doors and the REMOVAL OF ALL THE SHIN RAILS (caps quite deliberate.)

However the remainder is for the regeneration of the squares.

At this point I should tell you that Green Dreams are designing and contracting this work, so do not panic. They are very playful in the same way that we are. They want natural solutions and insist that all spaces should be playable for the whole community. In short I liked and trusted them.

Trellis Square- a playable garden… the first thought was to pull down the walls, but I pointed out that a cuddling wall can feel nice and mentioned the practical boundaries as being useful as an inclusive play tool. They understood. And the guy in charge suggested a sand-pit. (This was after I insisted that there would be big trouble if the space was turned into a garden that was not playable because all the spaces identified as playspaces were damn well going to stay playspaces while I was around. I didn’t actually say ‘stay away from her you bitch’ in my charming Sigourney Weaveresque way, but I think that’s what they might have heard and I think they liked that! I personally feel that it did set a certain tone….)

Sheffield Square. Once again I think I managed to charm them with the explanation of our hippy shit (heretoin HS), working methods, I enchanted them with my assault on the hostile plant! Wowed them with edible fencing and fairy lit trees, sand-pits rolling hills and scramble slopes. I think they even liked the idea that we could use water run off to feed a pump to create water ways through a series of trenches…. Etc etc it is possible we could be looking a a contribution to the cost of this… not sure. I have to submit plans to a T&R meeting in mid November.

Then onto the cage, which I pointed out had only one entrance. They are going to create a second one.

Creswisck Square, green dream suggested it could be a community garden with playspace (at this point I became almost obsessed by the fact that this woman was able to sight-read my mind out loud.) Green Dreams want to create an orchard in one of the squares and a rambling seaty rose garden for the elders garden.  Oh and yes, an allotment patch!

In Ambrose walk the THH guys wanted to put a toddler playground. For about half a second. After the green Dreams team and me telling him that this was an evil consumerist rip-off and damaging to the whole community and doomed to failure, (the three of us screeching this information altogether must have taken all of three seconds, so this was a speedy process.) he agreed to an all age play space, he started to ask one of the maintenance staff to order some play equipment.  When the chorus of harpies sounded off again and he agreed, rather quickly, to let Green Dreams and PATH find alternatives that would be cheaper and offer greater play value.

We also spoke about the need to create some spaces for older kids to play.. taking up the hostile paving and maybe creating some contours for a sort of skating experience, and removing No Ball Games signage in other spots to see if we could get some informal (‘Pick-up’ in the states) ball games going on.

I have sent the folks many of  the documents that we generated to this group and referred them to the Plog.


Obama Week Syndrome…?

Change CAN happen.

Elatedly yours,


Here are some more images from the local history archive for you to look at while we pull together more notes from recent events.


Sheba Street, 1978


Old Gun Wharf, 1930.


Fournier Street, 1978.