Below is an account written by Tess about the amazing play pod they’ve been running sessions from at Mile End Park.
Play Pod Update (July 2009)
Since the end of April, the Play Pod has been popping open and spilling out play offers into Mile End Park every Tuesday afternoon. The ﬁrst day we opened the pod, Eleanor got a call from the park rangers who had spotted us on CCTV: “Some people are squatting that shipping container in the park… they’re even hanging out their washing!” they said, having spotted our dressing-ups pegged to a line between trees. Months later the most common question we still get asked by adults is: “Do
you actually live here?” as their puzzled or suspicious eyes scan the tent, and then our clothesline decked out with princess dresses, wigs, bat wings, gold sequins, soldier’s armour, diver’s ﬂippers and various monster facial parts. “Yes of course” we often say.
Our most enthusiastic play promotors so far have been two sisters who arrived one day with their dad, having passed by the locked-up anonymous looking green pod everyday, playing a guessing game about what might be inside. “Probably gardening tools” dad had said “Or maybe food to feed the animals in the park.” They were overwhelmed with excitement to have ﬁnally discovered the mystery of the Pod: it is whatever they want to make it! In-between inventing new rope swings and becoming new characters, they took on the role of spreading the word on our behalf, rushing off with PATH ﬂyers to tell families about the Play Pod they had discovered.
A family of sisters and their little brother who usually arrive just before the end of the session have started to try bargaining for more Pod time with us! The sisters have found a way to engage in rough and tumble play whilst simultaneously swinging on ropes from trees, while their brother becomes immersed in bubbles and beads. Together they have mastered the sport of running in over-sized high heels, and gone diving in imaginary inﬁnite oceans with ﬂippers on their feet. Another very little boy who watched the bubbles quietly and carefully, sobbed when it was ﬁnally time for him to be carried away.
There has been a lot of curiosity and engagement in the Pod from all kinds of people passing by. For adults, the experience of stumbling across the Pod in its surreality often provokes interesting chats and reminiscences about their childhood play, and in some cases re-connects them with that play. We’ve had a pair of female police ofﬁcers stopping to play on rope swings, skateboarders asking to ﬁlm our “art installation”, an ex-Navy ofﬁcer borrowing our tent-pitching expertise and offering up advice on swing-building, and a grandmother who re-discovered her enthusiasm for the joys of dressing-up with her children and grandchildren.
As summer moves on we have been offering more water, ice and sand opportunities. A simple sandbox with cups and bottles of water, a few rose pine cones and ﬁgurines has been transformed into a swamp, a pond, and cooked into a pie with much delight.