February 2009


On Thursdays we’ve been returning to the high windy spot from Tuesday, and below are some of Zoe’s notes from a session:

Thursday was a rainy (and almost snowy) day. We were at the site on time. We prepared the site by ‘decorating’ it as we aimed to leave our marks on the landscape (such as paper flowers on the bushes-trees) for people to find. We emptied our bags in which we had tissue papers, scissors, rope and a variety of other material.

After 20 minutes we saw the two teenager boys (they are cousins) that had played in our first session at this spot. They were then very excited experimenting with making a rope-swing. They passed us and re-assured us that they are going to bring a tire for the rope-swing. After a while, we saw them wheeling the tire, anticipating attaching it to the rope.

After creative experimentation with the rope that had happened within our first session there, the two boys now knew how exactly they could create their swing. As they repeated this model, the swing was ready in a few minutes. After this, it was just pure fun.

The boys, and then us (the playworkers), we all experienced the swing-event. We were loudly laughing and this attracted other children’s curiosity. Both children and their parents were coming out in their balconies observing what we were doing. As a result, three younger children came out to play with the swing. Children were clearly very excited and wanted to make sure when we are going back.

We’ve started running twice-weekly sessions on another local site, a high flat windy spot surrounded by estate houses.    There’s a massive grassy slope and a flat tarmac section with the scars left from long-gone play equipment.  One boy we spoke to told it was called “The Dump” by local children, but some others said that they’d had a difficult time finding it, after seeing the play session advertisement distributed by the housing association.

Here are some of Rainer’s notes from the session:

We had 6 children, not bad for beginning. It was cold, a bit of an icy wind.

One mum came with her girl and baby. She was enthusiastic about the idea of offering play sessions.  She said there is nothing around and she is very frustrated. Another mum brought her 2 sons and daughter. The older daughter was waiting for us for weeks and was so happy that we finally made it.

Two older boys came along and of course they weren’t up for making things out of tissue paper. But the rope was interesting and they basically played for an hour with that. Especially one of them was immersed in how to get it over the tree and constructing it. He gave himself difficulties and challenges which was really interesting to see. He finally made a flying fox through getting the hoop down from the tree with the rope and then hanging the hoop as a swing. Sliding the hoop along the rope didn’t quite work of course but he hung on the rope upside down and he looked like an acrobat. I think he had lots of fun and his friend was more the hair designer type constantly talking on his phone with his other mates and bossing a bit around. Sorry no offence, he was hilarious.

The rope is such a good thing for older children but as well the younger once became interested and played with it.

I loved the snow fight with the rest of the snow!

The local Tenants and Residents Association sent us a lovely email following Saturday’s BBQ, and some quotes follow here:

I am glad to hear the event went well. I had no doubt you would be able to
attract children as most of the play spaces on the estate are similar to that play space. The play spaces are in a square shape enclosed
around the residents’ buildings (some having their front gardens opposite
the play space while others with their back garden opposite the play space).  I expect most of these children are those that live in the buildings
surrounded by the play space. The play spaces are underutilised, because
there isn’t any play equipment in any of the play areas on the estate. This
is why it is essential that LBTH rebuilds these spaces with proper play
equipment for the children.

In terms of understanding the needs of the estate and engaging the estate,
we (the Residents Assocation) have also carried out questionnaires in the past to ask what people want on the estate. In relation to this project,
we have had a large number of requests for play spaces to be properly
equipped with play equipment from people (mainly parents with young
children) all over the Estate.

It’s wonderful to see that the Tenants and Residents Association understand the need for vibrant play spaces in the estate, and understandable that the residents are vocal about the need for them considering how many children are currently living there.  Play equipment helps to advertise that a space is set aside for children, that their needs have been provided for by those in power.

The thing is, play is about more than equipment and children’s needs ought to be considered in all the decisions of design in the public realm.  In an ideal world children would be playing out all over the place, their parents chatting to one another all the while.  Public space would accomodate everyone, and in so doing help create a sense of cultural cohesion, of social belonging, and of possibility.

That’s why we’re hoping not just to run a few exciting play sessions for the children, but to demonstrate how much can be done with how little, to engage the local residents in a dialogue about play and the public realm, and to change people’s perceptions of the open spaces between their houses into something more colourful, more fluid, more playful for everyone.

On Saturday we set up camp from 12 – 3 in the post-playground tarmac space that forms a courtyard for an estate in our area.

We brought our high-visibility PLAYWORKER jackets:ambrose-walk-session-004

Loose parts of brightly coloured powder paints and a length of rope:

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We wanted to play through information on some of the changes that we’ve proposed for this space, talk with them about their needs and desires for their doorstep play opportunities and share some of our ideas.  But this was a play session, not consultation, and like every good play session it developed into something richer, more vibrant and fantastic than we could have imagined.

There will be another post that looks more specifically at the ‘consultation’ aspect of this day, but I wanted one just to celebrate the fun that was had – because play is the point, after all.

Here are some images from the day:

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It was the brightest of winter bar-be-ques, and a pleasure and privilege to meet the wonderful children who live there.  There are many more pictures hosted on our Flickr page here.

A couple of weeks ago we went walking through our patch, coming across a little playground, marked out with fixed equipment and brightly coloured safety surface.  It was fenced in, central to the estate and reached by sets of staggered pathways.

It wasn’t terrible.  Lots of fixed equipment which we’re not particularly disposed towards, and someone had been training their dog on the rubber seats and wooden benches, but there are lush plantings around the edge and some thought had been given to the demarcation of spaces.  The housing estate made for a pleasing courtyard effect and most importantly it was clearly a part of the public realm set aside for play.  The opening hours were clearly signposted and we were there when it was supposed to be unlocked.  Only one problem.

It wasn’t.

The anti-climb paint and padlocked gate turned the playspace into a fortress – and in prime midweek afterschool hours too.  The sign also had a number to ring in case of emergency, so I rang it.  The call was not free, and once I’d waited through interminable automated messages, it wasn’t answered either.

As the phone rang and rang in the presumably empty room at the other end, I grew more and more angry.  The question of whether or not playspaces should be fenced is an old one.  We tend to fall on the side of gates and fences for a number of reasons – to increase inclusivity by making provision for children with disabilities who can be considered ‘flight risks’, to separate the space for those exercizing their pets and to state clearly that this place is different from others, that this place is for children’s play.

Implied in this argument, however, are two points:

  • That specified provision such as playgrounds are not to be viewed as the ‘only’ places where play is appropriate, but instead located in a considered and playable public realm.
  • That these gates are opened so that children can come in!

On a far happier note, however, the amazing weather we’ve been having has supplied the whole city with high value natural play material – snow!  With traffic at a standstill and schools and offices closed, people emptied out into the streets and the parks to build, fight, scuffle and explore.  Adults and children played out together, as the ‘adverse weather conditions’ for daily routines proved to be the perfect weather conditions for play.