1st July ‘10

We had a busy session in today’s hot weather with swinging games in the hammock and chasing games. There was a long game of tag between a group of kids who played at being a zombie or a gorilla to chase the others when they were ‘it’. One chase game between the older boys and a younger male playworker, felt a little aggressive, turning from fun into them getting rude with personal comments. They began to cuss his mum but Jake turned it into a game telling them he only got angry if they said good things about his mum! The fun came back with him pretending to get mad when they told him his mum was nice and a “responsible citizen”!

3rd July ‘10

Today’s sessions were fairly busy at all 3 squares with the sunny weather bringing lots of kids outside. We played lots of football today, making goals for each other by standing with our feet apart which allowed for lots of cheating! One girl at the 2nd square organised a game of ‘Duck, duck, goose’ with everyone but it didn’t work for very long. At the last square a very shy, little girl came out to play with her mum and got drawn into our session. At first she just wanted to push the basket swing and was too scared to get on but when we promised to push her very gently she agreed to have a go and by the end of the session she was shouting to go higher, giggling and even getting cheeky. Her mum stood close by the whole time, watching us and seemed a bit suspicious of us. She looked pleased that her daughter was having a good time but called to her several times to be careful.

6th July ‘10

Today was warm and lots of older kids were hanging out on the estate. There was an atmosphere of tension between the older group of boys and the playworkers and lots of parents were out, some shouting in what felt like quite aggressive tones at their children. We had a game of hide and seek and games on the swings. At one point a boy winded himself falling off the swing but also enjoyed milking the attention of his friends as they gathered round him!

8th July ‘10

This session was lots of fun with lots of kids playing out in the sun. They had a long game of slap-ball with a tennis ball and some boys climbed in the trees. One took it very seriously, wanting to find chalk to rub on his hands before he climbed and asking the playworkers for help finding little bits of chalk on the ground. A male playworker had a long chasing game with some children which was lots of fun but got difficult when one boy got angry as the other children wound him up saying the playworker had said bad things about his mum.

A girl of about 3 was sat on her balcony wanting to play too but wasn’t allowed to come down. She talked through a small gap in the balcony to the playworkers and tried to drop Wotsit crisps and her skipping rope down to them!

A couple of girls tried to take the playworkers’ bags, it was a game for them but we explained to them why it was going too far. Also, a boy found a used condom in a bush during the session and was asking what it was but it seemed he already knew. We tried telling him it was an old water bomb!

3 boys did some great dancing, one was showing the moves he was learning for his school play, ‘Grease’ and the others joined in, one excitedly tried to do a front flip but landed on his back. He said he was fine but it had obviously hurt!

10th July ‘10

Today’s session at the first square was quiet with just a handful of girls wanting to make chalk drawings on the floor. At the next square we had a water fight with a large group of mostly girls, some boys came out towards the end of the session but didn’t want to get wet, they started their own game of football.

13th July ‘10

This session began quietly and became very busy. Two girls made a hammock totally by themselves, figuring out to tie the knots. It could only swing a little bit before hitting the climbing frame but they were very proud of it and themselves.

One game got very boisterous- a game of chasing a new playworker with branches. It was a game he had started, but it began to get a little out of hand. At the end of the session the young teenagers involved followed the playworkers to the bus stop and it felt somewhere between play and something more serious, they were angry from the game.

15th July ‘10

It’s been a sunny, windy, mad session with lots of children with lots of energy! two girls competed to commandeer Rainer’s attention, one wanting to play swings, another to play a hairdressing game. When one girl got a small cut and got some first aid treatment to clean the cut, the other deliberately grazed her arm against a tree so she could also get the treatment and attention.

There were lots of running backwards races (the winner would become king) and a football game that a large group of boys and girls played together- which was nice as they normally play in separate groups.

One boy spent ages playing with a hole he dug in the mud and filled with water, calling it his ‘bibbily bubbly’.

17th July ‘10

Lots of fantasy play and running games took place in the first part of the session, Rainer became the king in the ‘castle’ (a ring of stones on the bank) with his own fashion designer and servants bringing exotic pretend foods. This turned more chaotic as servants began to rebel and needed capturing, creating a chasing game and lots of arresting people in prisons of material. Themes from games played in previous weeks crept their way back into this one and the fun we were having attracted several new kids into the game as they came over to see what was happening and found themselves wrapped up in material too.

At the 2nd square we had no children at all, which was unusual here. The weather was dry so it seemed strange. We put some coloured tape and fabric out to make ourselves more visible and waited half an hour but when still no children came we decided to go earlier to the last square. Here was busy again, with football and swing games. One boy tried to start a competition to jump off the swing but no one wanted to compete with him, he was too good at it! Lots of children dressed up and one girl remained in character as queen throughout the entire session, ordering the play workers to capture a smaller boy who was rude to her for being “the smelliest boy”. As we began to pack up the session, a group of boys took our ball and began throwing it to each other and we had a game of chasing the ball then, when we got it, throwing it between ourselves (the playworkers and one girl on our side) while they tried to get it again. It was good natured and the session ended on a high.

20th July ‘10

At today’s session we had an incident where a father came down and accused a playworker of having hurt his daughter’s finger the week before. They had been play-fighting. Another girl overhearing said she had been hurt too which aggravated the situation with the father but the play workers responded calmly to the man’s anger and his threat to phone the police. He didn’t call the police and the situation diffused. After he left, the play returned with lots of crafts and some new children joining in. The weekly session on this estate often feels dense with lots of issues from life on the estate impinging on the relationships between the groups of kids who play here. Somehow these sessions are often less playful. We have a sense everyone has to guard their behaviour here, including the adults. Dressing up and fantasy play rarely happen here for example, games tend to be more physical.

This was one of the new play spaces created under the Pathfinder scheme. Before it was built we were told that the land was going to be used to create more housing in an already over populated patch of territory. This had been the last remaining open space in the estate. Interestingly at that time the RSL was concerned because the children who were about 15 at the time had started acting out with some very anti-social behaviours. As we talked to the landlords they came to understand that these children –born as the estate was re-generated and all the common ground used for building or fenced off for private use- had never had space to play out as a group. They had become super territorial and were chased away from stairwells. I was told that the RSL was pulling out the planting, not because it was ugly and municipal, but because the kids were hiding knives and axes in the bushes. Pathfinder came along at just the right time for this estate. The opportunity to create a village green was very well received by the residents and the land was saved by the creation of this play area. Originally there were complaints from RSL staff about the amount of littler that appeared on the site each night. But we were able to point out that this was an indicator of great success. Especially as the littler appeared later on in the evening and was obviously being dropped by young people. This was the only sign that the youngsters were using the site. There had been no complaints about anti-social behaviour at all. I made sure that as many people in the organisation saw this as a cause for celebration and suggested it merited them arranging another litter pick on their maintenance schedule and perhaps installing a rubbish bin.

For years this site had been evenly spread with dog shit. No-one had ever picked it up. The only patch of green available to all these thousands of people used to regulate the bowels of town dogs. In the light of this background information it will be hardly surprising that an estate –so long deprived of the civilized resources that every community has the right to expect– a space for the whole community to play and share the outside, not just use it as an inconvenience that happens between buildings, (or a convenience for dogs) has developed a long term play deprivation. The community are going to be cautious. It will take a while to unpick this damage. But hey! For at least 15 years, no child has played on this space, no adult sat to watch them, no complaints have been made that a finger got cut. That complaining father, like the litter, is a cause for celebration! (Penny.)

22nd July ‘10

Today was relaxed and busy. There was a long game of collecting tiny beads left behind from the jewellery making in last week’s session and throwing them at each other. Some of the boys had a long chat with Rainer about injustice and how unfair adults were to them.

Some boys climbed high in the trees, taking lots of risks, and also a big game of dodge ball took place which brought lots of the kids together. They told us they don’t normally play together when we’re not there.

24th July ‘10

Today we had a big play-fight throwing fabric at each other with all the play workers and lots of kids involved. At one point it got a bit aggressive between two brothers and two other boys and a conflict was beginning. We managed to distract them into another game where we tied them all to the tree with the material and then timed how long it took each of them to escape! The play-fight resumed afterwards but was friendlier. Again, we had to explain to the younger boys about keeping it playful and not really punching or kicking people hard! One boy quietly took himself away from the play-fights to build himself a hammock to sit in and a quieter group of girls drew around Habiba, making a book so they could play a game about a school teacher with her class.

At the next square Habiba and I made a pretty hanging decoration of gold buttons on ribbon while we waited to see if the kids would turn up. They did and our artwork was destroyed within 2 minutes as they pillaged for the gold buttons which became money and the currency of the session! The oldest boy made himself king and got his servants to collect gold coins for him or he would pay them for tasks. The game became themed around power and punishment. Rainer and I were their prisoners and they taped our hands and feet, but one boy made himself a spy, disguising himself in fabric and helped us escape! The king’s mother shouted out the window at him when he sat on the floor because it was dirty, then called him home but from home he lent out his window to shout down to us that he was now in his castle!

At our third and final square all the children played together in one massive game of dressing up and organised a royal wedding between themselves, the older children taking the important roles and getting the younger ones to be their maids, cooks, etc. We build a den for their palace of fabric between trees in an area of the square that isn’t normally played in and the honeymoon took place on the swing! At the end of session the princess decided to divorce her prince, she said she’d found someone better.

27th July ‘10

Today, at the start of the school summer holidays, was busy. A group of kids were doing a dance project in the community hall and came out to play with us during their break. We brought ‘Play’ flags with us which the kids coloured with highlighter pens and put around the play space. Some children made paper guns and some quite complicated origami ninja stars. One boy was determined to learn how to make the stars and ran about for ages between the other kids asking for help until he got enough help to do it. Lots of the play centred around the roundabout and swings.

29th July ‘10

Today we played with the flags and highlighter pens again, and played with small figures. A girl with special needs from our Mile End park session came along today and the other children were curious to come and meet her, some were awkward, not knowing how to react to her, but one boy who normally plays wildly in sessions was especially caring towards her. Lots of the children brought cousins along who were visiting them over the school holidays so the session was busy. There was a bit of trouble at the end of the session with some older boys making racist and homophobic comments to the playworkers and even hitting one of the younger, male playworkers but they stopped when asked to.

31st July ‘10

The session began quietly today, we did some crafts with a couple of children who were already playing out, making clothes pegs into people, monsters, snakes, etc. and pretending to be upset when the kids destroyed our own creations. It was quite a grey morning and we saw about 10 kids during the session. We had bizarre game where the playworkers put clothes pegs as high in the tree as we could reach/ jump to and the kids tried to get them all out again!

As usual, no children were playing out in the 2nd square when we arrived. We began building a den, attaching 2 ropes from high tree branches to the fence and draping fabric across them. One girl arrived to play with us and initiated a detective game. She announced she was ‘Detective Inspector Whateva’ and wanted to know who had committed a murder, asking us what we’d done the evening before and taking our finger prints- before flipping to being the murderer herself. Other children came out and joined in and we ended playing with about 15 children, mostly girls. The session ended with lots of laughter and running about in 2 teams, one being the thieves who had stolen the fancy dress clothes and the others trying to get them back.

The last square was fairly busy, some older teenagers were hanging about and young boys were gathered round the swing. Our regulars, a brother and sister were watching out their window for us and came out when they saw us arrive, they’re only allowed to play out when supervised and their family are supportive of our sessions. The younger boy always brings out a bag with something to show us, some books or toys and his sister likes to push us on the swing and chatter about her week while testing how high and how long we can swing for that day! A group of 4 boys played at making themselves hammocks hanging from the climbing frame but one of them was being a bit bullied by the others, they undid one corner of his hammock so he fell out. We talked to them about it and helped the boy to build a new hammock when the others left.