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.