Below is Penny’s update on Sheffield Square, following a number of team brainstorming sessions, of making lovely drawings and costing elements and warming ourselves through this cold January on the toasty possibilities of this space. 



So… I turn up at Sheffield Square in a warm jacket,  brand new sticks of chalk in the pocket, christmas tape measure on its maiden voyage. I am putting the last strokes to the designs we have whipped up to make a  magic  playspace with a  tiny budget of £2K, on this bleak stretch of tarmac    the details of the project scamper around in my head as I walk towards the space.

We  are planning to hold  play sessions while weave  willow into the fences We are meeting with residents to gather stories about their play memories and offer them training to support their children ‘s play. We have useful bits and pieces of reclaimed wood,stone and  fence squirreled away in a scrap yard. We have plans to plant a living climbing tree. I am working out how to do some of the construction work that is needed myself and still fit in office and development work…

Anyway this is the last of my preparatory visits.  Next time  I have planned to glue  tissue paper letters to the tarmac (PLAY!), distribute the flyers, , three on each photocopied sheet.  and  chalk arrows and information  advertising the session on the walkways all over the estate. The school will know and estates officers have been informed.

Then I round the corner and find this:


The site has been turned into a building site office with port-a-cabins and port-a-loos and blokes in hard hats and lots of ‘scaff’ and tea and mud and no room for children at all. No room for twinkling fairy lights in the trees or wildflower seed planting, no village pump feeding the stream designed to meander around the dip in the tarmac near the surface drain, no marine ply throne shapes to transform the seatless benches of forty years ago…

This work is a constant series of setbacks and re-inventions, of extreme hope and profound disappointment; Of visionary, dynamic and dedicated employees of the council and Registered Social landlords and voluntary sector people and of complete jobs-worth duffers  who are without passion or pride in their work , who hinder, halt and make stale the work of others.

So, through enept planning and  efficient bungling I am forced to break the  promise to turn Sheffield Square into a playground by the end of March.. The children have less room and freedom to play than they did before I made that promise. The funding is lost. The willows missing their season. The goodwill and trust betrayed. “Them do-gooders, they come in here from the outside, making their  promises and then they go away and you never hear or  see ‘em again…’  people here have learned to expect to be let down.Its going to do folks no favours if I mope about this. So I put on my High Resolution  (Hi Res) playwork warm jacket, pick myself up, dust myself off and plan all over again.  

Back to the team with an optimistic plan. Back to the funder with a justification for non-delivery of sessions that does not look like a fumbling excuse.

I am so glad that I am a Playworker.


No seriously.


In what other profession would equip me to expect the unexpected, prepare me for the constant devaluation of the work that I do and the experience that I have and still let me love my work so much that I am enthusiastic and optimistic again by the end of a day like this one.


 I think it helped that this was the day that President Obama was inaugurated.  If he can become president of the United States of America (I hear Hendrix spitting out the star strangled, (sic) banner), then we can make Tower Hamlets playful, ( I hear Aretha.)