“The uglier it is, the stronger the message: ‘you don’t deserve beauty: what you do is not worth very much.’”
Starting to play on a new space.
The Playtimes team has recently found a couple of little pockets of money which we have decided to use to supplement our existing sessions. The original agreement was for the team to establish play sessions in three locations over the course of three years. Working with the community alongside the children delivering face to face work and gathering play memories from the adults. Well,’ more interesting than what we were seeking is what we stumbled upon -’ to quote the introduction to Family and Kinship in East London. (Young & Willmott.)
We found that in this new bit of the project we are thrown slap bang into the middle of a regeneration of a huge area of estates. Collecting play memories is always powerful but here those memories melded into stories of place. Because here there had been art least a couple of generations growing up on the same estates- ‘ – a highly articulated network of kinship relations.’ (to finish the previous quote.)
In all the years I have been living and working in East London I have been told about the tight knit communities of the past. I have had described to me the shared open spaces where people stopped to talk and the children played and how every body looked out for each others children and how they looked after the elders who had looked after them as kids and how when some-one was sick the community rallied round… all the things that I had begun to think were myths of a romanticized golden era of the cockney. But here, on this estate. I found it. The genuine article. I have found the heart of the East End and it is big and warm and pulsing.
‘I am allowed to go over there to my mate because her mum is like a sister to my mum coz they grew up together so she’s my cousin’.
Every time we go onto this estate we find new excitement and adventures. The children do roam, not over the whole estate, and certainly not outside of the estate. But they are confident comfortable and really really bright. The adults understand the need for them to play in fact many of them grew up playing on the same spaces.
Each new site the play times team have gone to they have found different feeling to it. Some have felt hostile to us at first, others cynical and scathing, but here feels alive and vibrant we have half a dozen older children volunteering to help us out with the play sessions. Here are some accounts of our;
Play Times on Bede
October 25th 2010
It was such a wonderful experience, the children were thrilled to have this opportunity. On the square where me and Morgan were at it was mostly boys and 1 girl, about halfway through another girl joined, she had so much energy and enthusiasm and ideas to make the playhouse, she was full of ideas and making adjustments one after the other, it also the first girl didn’t feel so left out, as all the boys were writing on the house and saying ‘boys house only’ and things like that. These two girls built the house and later the boys were going inside the house and letting the girls go in other house also. Having had this taster play session here has made more aware of how much the children and deprived of play in built up places like these. The children thoroughly enjoyed themselves and used all the loose parts that we took with us. When Rainer and Habiba were going on to the other square, one child came to me with a slightly upset look and asked “are you going now?”, “No” I replied, “but if you want us to go we will pack up and go”, to which he said “please dont go, this is the most fun I have had.”
Having a regular play session here will give the children around the square something meaningful and give them some true play values.
One guy on the second square, after we’ve took out our loose parts, cardboard, materials and small word parts, an approximately 18 year old young man came with his vespa, parking it near from one of our play flags and us. He was looking but didn’t say anything at first. Obviously it must have been quite a surprise for the whole square seeing two strangers spreading child stuff on the square…and waiting! Well he took his time parking his horse and was about to go in his flat but turned around, not wanting to leave with that a question unanswered for him.
I explained our project and mentioned the consultation at that east end home shop, and he seemed shifting into a different world… mentioning that he played on that square as a child, some childhood memories must have flooded his mind and his face looked very different. What a wonderful welcoming of our work!
After waiting for a while one mum opened her door asking what’s going on here. We said we’re waiting for the children… She said: Give me 5 minutes!
Her daughter and son played with us throughout the whole session. We were building a house with the cardboard and chalk drawing and the materials. The house constantly fell apart and had to be repaired.
Mum had a look sometimes through her door if everything is fine. She also wanted to see some ID and I gave her Penny’s ‘String of beads’ and Remember’ cards, she was happy with.
At the end their older brother came home and was surprised and asked his brother what we are doing here. The little brother said there was a ‘fun fair’ going on. The older brother was a bit confused as he did not see any big carousels, bouncy castles, loud music etc..
…well, that little brother was so right, we had so much fun together… and I guess his playing must have felt like a fun fair… taking risks and going through so many different emotions in his playing.
Looking very much forward to playing more at that place.
I felt this would be a wonderful place to work, and a place where work is much needed. We had a few children over the day and I felt it was a diverse bunch in age, interest and play background.
The children who were there longest were so bright and engaged, so ready to play, patient and creative.
There was a group of boys who were at times quite aggressive in their play but really good about doing that with one another. They were interested in tagging, claiming materials and space. Some of this, particularly some quite graphic graffitti, upset some of the younger children, but the boys had huge passion in their play and a great hunger for it.
There was also a family who came where all of the children just stared up at us with this longing that they didn’t know what to do with. One asked me how to start, whether they could build something. We put some things together but it was clear they don’t get a lot of practice at this. They would ask one of us to “make this so it stays up here” but there was nothing beneath it – they were trying to play but I don’t think they yet had the blocks of experience to build on (literally, metaphorically). I set up an L-shaped piece of cardboard as a ramp and set a small car down it beside them, then left it as if moving onto something else. I was interested to see if/how they’d pick it up and they did, sending things down the ramp. One then tried to run up it on his bike, and when it was squashed they came up to ask me to “help! help!”
Their Mum got cold and they left, protesting and crying.
The children and the parents were asking about when we’d be there again. One of the boys was complaining that the building works had taken away nearly all the places to play. He was the one who kept asking us when we’d be there, if we’d bring cardboard, how it would be.
November 4th 2010
“I’m not racist,” the girl said. The boys inside the den she’d built laughed.
“Yeah, you are,” one said loudly. “We all heard you say it. You hate white people!” The girl looked up at me and bit her lip.
“I didn’t,” she said quietly. “I never.” On her other side was Kunhi, and he touched her on the shoulder and spoke loud enough to be heard inside the den.
“I didn’t hear that,” he said. There were more whispers from the boys inside, more laughter. She crossed her arms over her chest and walked off in the direction of home, kicking at the tarmac. Kunhi coaxed her back and when she returned I tied a piece of gold fabric around her wrist to draw her back in.
A little while later I was in a game with another child, chasing and lassoing one another across the square. The girl joined in, taking up the rope and looping it around me, her eyes bright.
“You’re going to PRISON,” she said.
“Oh no!” I cried, letting myself be pulled back towards the den, which was now empty.
“Yes! Jail! You’re going to JAIL,” she said, “for being RACIST.” Over her shoulder I saw Penny appearing and saw her put her hand up to hide a laugh.
“I didn’t do it,” I said to my captor, trying to reach through instinct for the part I wanted she might want me to play. My protests were ignored and she tugged harder on the ropes.
“Yes, “ she said, satisfaction in her voice as we rounded the corner towards the door cut into the cardboard. “You’re going into the dungeon, with the dragons and the pirates and the brown princesses.” She threw me in, ropes dangling from my wrists.
I broke out a few moments later and was promptly reincarcerated, but the third time I was asked to hold a length of duct tape in place for a tricky roofing operation. When that was finished we drew moustaches on strips on paper, “hum hum humming” at each other in deep, pompous, nonsense voices. She grinned.
“That’s how people with moustaches talk,” we agreed. Behind us Kunhi smiled behind his facial hair.
I don’t know about you guys but I was delighted by the day today. I found the children charming bright and alert, sometimes hard to break through their shell but worth working at.
The adults were furious*, but not unreasonable as we have found on other Estates.
I was impressed by the rallying calls that went around, the bush telegraph was effective here, and the children were the runners. It felt like going back in time or traveling for thousands of miles to a time and place when people still lived with each other. They may not always agree or like each other but they live with their differences.
*this session was a consultation for east End Homes on the development of the outdoor spaces. It moved very rapidly to quite emotive issues.
I was moved by a conversation with one woman who told me she had hated the estate for many years when she first lived here. She said she realized that she could not go on living with such hatred inside her and so she started to look for the treasure in the place which was the people around her. She now would not move from Her small and overcrowded flat because she loves her neighbours and the life they have created for each other.. .
It was moving to hear her talk about having grown up, seeing such an ugly place the whole day, day in day out. The peach coloured bricks and windows and the grey pavements . She said that most people never leave the estate or go anywhere else or see any beauty.
She described to me a holiday she had this year. As they drove down the mountains to the seaside village she wept because it looked like heaven on earth, it was so beautiful.
This reinforces the design ethos that I was working on. She did not want to see a playground on her square, just something lovely and flexible so that they could continue to use the space as a gathering point. A place where they can continue to have their big block parties and where the children can meet up safe under all of the watchful eyes around them, somewhere where neighbours can linger and be with each other.
Halloween on Bede. Friday 29th October.
The team at EEH had been doing a week filled with activities for half term. There had been flower planting on the square and a trip to the theatre for the youth club and a trip to the cinema for the younger kids.
As a last minute thought at the end of the week Cathy Page and Penny decided to do a few halloween activities. We did not want to do a party for the kids, but show them a few how to make your own Halloween stuff tips. Penny did the usual and bought in loads of Satsuma’s on which pumpkin faces were drawn in permanent pen. She also bought several metres of black shiny organza. With theses and a stapler the children could create their own spooky cloaks. There was a great turn out of children and they had a good time. There was a bit of bemusement. When they were asked to respect the new shop/community space one of the kids asked if it was going to be like school here. (was it a place where there would be rules and regulations to be negotiated.) we assured him that this was not the case and he was relaxed again. However the children and young people clearly didn’t know how to behave in this space and at one point several of them started throwing Satsuma’s around outside. One hit a passerby who got very cross. he was an estate resident and one of the mums that was helping out went to get the child that did it and took him to the gentleman and made him apologise. This kind of old fashioned community looking after the children is another example of how this estate still functions like a traditional east end community.
This helped considerably to set the tone of the use of the shop and give the children the clarity they needed. The boy was treated with respect and understanding and was encouraged to see the consequences of what he had done. He was given comfort and support when he crumpled after the event and said he was fed up of always being in trouble. Several of the children at this event have ADHD. We need to make sure that we are treating them in constructive ways. It is hard to live with ADHD. One has poor impulse control and finds it hard to learn from ones mistakes. There is a drive to constant activity and a desire to be doing ‘the next thing’ before the last one is through. I can see that these kids are very often perceived as a nuisance by folks who have not lived in close contact with ADHD. After all they do do all the things that we associate with naughty rude children. However if we treat them right we see a very different side of them. Telling them off and punishing them is not going to work. More than anyone else, they wish that they could just pull themselves together and behave normally. (the best way to respond to them is working with them to understand clear boundaries, explain why those boundaries are in place. To have sanctions that are agreed with the child but not to view these as punishments , but as a way of taking a step back to decide to work hard at coming back… all of this needs to be re-enforced over and over gain. Disabilities are inconvenient for all concerned . ADHD is a disability recognised in employment law and by health services and benefits agencies.) Perhaps we need to make sure that we are training estates staff up to understand how these kids need to be understood.
Teenager C was invaluable at this event. She organised and face painted and tidied up, getting all the kids to share the task. She kept the whole thing calm and smooth. I leant her some facepaints for the real Halloween evening. EEH CP made sure that she was given a little something to thank her.
Session on Bede November 4
RK EI nd PW worked this session. we started off on the north square off Wager street and gradually rainer moved to the southern one, PW moved between the two. the children used some of the cardboard that was left from the previous week. a go-Kart that Eleanor had in the boot of her car, and fabric. two of the younger kids made a den out of the temporary stairwell. they worked hard at it and did a great job. they thought that maybe they wanted to keep every one out, but found that they were actually happy to invite their friends in at the end of the build process.
There was a little bit of a fuss about the use of some sari fabric. One of the kids suggested that ‘we don’t use that P— stuff around here’. But the other kids told him to pack it in and played the whole thing down. I didn’t get the impression that this was done for my benefit, just that they knew he was sounding off and testing me and they didn’t want their time spoiled by his nonsense. I made a note to myself to bring as many bits of glorious sari fabric in as I possibly could. Meanwhile on the square the children played quite happily together eleanor was using glow sticks as it grew darker and there was an interesting incident. The children had all been choosing their glow stick colours there were only a few left so there was a ration, one for each child. One little girl insisted on being given a stick for each of her brothers and sisters and cousins who lived on the estate but were not at the session. Eleanor said no they had agreed how to share, if the other children joined the session then they could collect a glow stick. Eventually one of her brother came into the square with Dad on the way to Arabic school. The boy saw the glow stick in the girls hand and said he wanted one. Eleanor gave him one, but it was not the colour that he wanted which was the colour his sister had. Without a thought Dad made the girl give hers to the boy and they left the square. Putting these two incidents together later we realized that we are in a very difficult spot. I would like to use this as a reflective practice exercise. Where would the playwork principles take me on this question. ?
If we add to this the fact that the squares are predominantly white traditional local residents. They discuss race as an issue, but deny racism. ‘we welcome anybody, that’s how the east end has always been. But we don’t like it when people don’t respect us and our ways and culture. We don’t like it when we think people are taking advantage of us or when they will not mix .’
Many of these families are overcrowded and have been for many years. But they love their community and would rather be overcrowded with each other than have space and be isolated for their ‘family’ . Of course this is exactly how old style London communities are described, and African villages and villages in Bangladesh. It seems to be what we crave in our lives. I must confess to feeling envious of these families who live so tightly together. However in front of one of the blocks and to the corner of others and dotted all over the overcrowded estate there is constant building work in progress to build new 5 and 6 bedroom houses. The assumption is that these are for the Bengali population who live in extended family groups. While this is going on the ‘rat runs’ are being designed out of the estate and the residents who have lived tightly together for 30 or so years will no longer be able to carry on ‘popping in and out of each others houses three or fours times a day.’
The trick is to remember that more than one thing can be true at any one time.
About 5 Wager Street.
There was a shop front allocated to child care of some sort in the first stages of re-generation. it was going to be used by Sure Start from the outset. After discussion EEH thought that the shop could also be used for after schools play sessions and for Youth groups as well as as a community centre. The open spaces consultation was held there and PATH are able to keep their loose parts there and use it as a base . There is quite a lot of interest in this shop front from the community and as we will see in the up and coming entries, they are taking control of this community resource in a way that we had only dreamed of.
It is worth mentioning that the walls of Wager Street are painted with whiteboard paint. There is a constant mural of ideas and pictures and insults and jokes appearing and disappearing on these walls. This is a great tool for doing any sort of engagement, particularly the ‘over the garden fence’ type work. Ideas get written up and you take a picture of them. Simples! A highly recommended device.
Volunteer recruitment day 5 Wager Street. Saturday 6th November.
Many of the adults on the estate had asked about volunteering to run youth groups play sessions and child care sessions. EEH organised a Saturday event in 5 Wager Street to recruit these folks.
We sat around all day waiting for the influx of adults, which never came. A couple of lovely Bengali women expressed an interest in volunteering which was great news for me. One of the elders also volunteered… ‘well these kids here. They aint going to take any notice if some-one from outside comes in to tell ‘em off. Ill do it, they’ll listen to me. We understand each other.’
What did surprise and delight us all was that the older children volunteered. At first I thought they were just bored and whiling away their time. But as we talked I understood that they have a genuine sense of community. Why should I be surprised at this after all I have learned form these people.?
They filled in their application forms and personal statements. ‘I baby sit for families on the estate and I had a work placement in a nursery’. (Teenage boy)
One kids was very into football and said he wanted to show the little one show great it was being outside rather than sat indoors with their x boxes. Another said that they know and understand the little children and want them to be able to play.
These kids are sweet and kind.
I spent a while with a woman from Sure start. We started to discuss her play memories. She was transported at once and the memories kept unfolding. She seemed to be moved by the strength of the sensation but more than that by the fact that she was organizing sure start activities and training parents and that no-one had ever asked her to recall her own playing. She had not stopped to think about the reality of play. this was a very very bright, talented and lovely woman and I really look forward to hearing from her about ways to enhance the play that she is offering in her provision.
So having recruited a lot of kids as trainee playworkers/volunteers, we sat back and waited for the adults. Still nothing. So at about 3.30 we closed up. I went walkabouts with two of the children. They always make sure that they ask mum before they do this.. I like that. We looked at some of the opens spaces on the estate and they imagine their ideas. The childrens garden and growing spaces. The way that the squares could be used so that all the families could be out there like they were last year with the world cup parties. Should these spaces have locks? Yes… wait No because if they have locks then the other kids from other spaces wont be able to come in and they will feel sad and left out’ (Eat you heart out secure by design people. This kid could think it through to know that people, when excluded from public spaces feel sad and he knows that if they feel left out they are also going to feel jealous and if they feel jealous they are also going to feel cross and if the feel cross they do cross things. ) This community works beautifully and is in danger of being dismantled by design. Here am I funded by One Tower Hamlets, a social cohesion fund, and what am I being told? That improvements are liable to create division of cohesive communities , envy and jealousy where none existed before, a resentment of Bengali families that had not been present until the regeneration and a feeling that the white community is being treated with a negative prejudice. These perceptions are expressed with caution. But I hear similar remarks in many places I visit. Play is the sort of arena that can address this kind of hurt. It is generally accepted that all children need to play and that children should be playing together. Through doing this the barriers of the unknown are transgressed. The mums will chat and find that ‘The other’ is not a horrible creature, but some –one who can become a passing acquaintance or a close friend. The other thing that works is food. Memo to self, a foody all age play day!
As the little children and I stood in front of a space that they wanted as a garden, ‘;for them as don’t have a balcony or a garden of their own but still love to grow things’, a miracle happened, even greater than their wisdom. The sun set over mile end park and between two blocks the most luscious plum and custard sky burst out of nowhere. I capture is and showed them on my camera, catching their glowing faces as well. ‘That looks like Africa’ they breathed. And I remembered reading over Andover again to my one year old son, ‘the sun rose over the African plain …something and something… as it had done since the beginning of time’. Well the Lion King finally paid off! One of the children told me about the difficult times she had had before she moved on to the estate, then she said, her face glowing with the sunset light,’ when I moved in, me and my mate would get stools and sit together outside on the balcony and watch the sunsets. I love sunsets’.
I forgot to mention that one of the housing officers had told me about ‘mischievous night’ Explanation below is taken direct from Wikipedia.
Mischief Night (also known as……. Devil’s Night, Hell Night, Cabbage Night, Gate Night, and Mizzy Night and Miggy Night) is an annual tradition in parts of England, Canada, and the United States; a night when the custom is for people (primarily teenagers and preteens) to take a degree of license to play pranks and do mischief to their neighbors. The most common date for Mischief Night is October 30, the day before Halloween. However the traditional British Mischief Night is the night before bonfire night as this was the night Guy Fawkes was caught implementing his Gunpowder Plot.
She had the same lost in reverie look that people do when they remember their early years as she told us this.
This week there was torrential rain and Rainer and I decided to get permission to run the sessions from 5 Wager Street.
This could not have been a better decision. The children came in, I went off to collect some with one of the kids. We built dens and drank hot chocolate and bit by bit the shop filled up with young uns and teenagers and parents. A bizarre game of catch with a plastic crab ended the day. It was lovely and relaxed and cozy and felt like a family.
Igot a call from CP to say that some of the older kids were in trouble on the estate. They had been messing about (playing, not shooting up or dealing drugs or committing violent crimes mark you), in one of the stairwells. An adult resident had come out to complain at them, one of the kids had responded with choice and ill advised words and now, although they didn’t know it, these kids were to be punished. This is a case of the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing or why. These acts of arbitrary injustice serve to sever the community and do not instill a sense of self worth and well being in a young person. If you remember the Satsuma throwing incident, the child realized his mistake and apologized. Local and swift an effective. This authoritarian imposition of unwritten rules with unspecified penalties without any kind or judicial procedure or appeal is never going to work. We made sure that these kids were welcomed to the sessions and their importance to us made clear. This was a glorious session for me. There was den building and small world and drawing and conversation and fun and games with the entry phone and dressing up and the tent that h had given to the project and CP stayed to help out and the mums stayed and planned a Christmas present making session with PATH and also decided to enter the ‘perfect Christmas’ competition’ from sainsburys. And the dads came in to see what was going on and stayed a while. I hadn’t realized til then how matriarchal this society was. Again, this is fresh out of the pages of ‘Family and Kinship in East London’.
At one point I saw Rainer sitting down, just watching the evening unfold.
I have never seen that before. I looked at him and we smiled and greed that the playing was doing itself. We didn’t need to support it very much at all this week.
The older children asked if we could run the sessions a little later so we have decided to extend the finish til 7 and start at 4. but we must be mindful that the younger ones are also in need of their own time. We must guard this with care.
Session novemeber 25th
Penny was busy researching the archives of Lady Allen of Hurtwood in Warwick. Morgan and Cathy worked this session together.
This is a strange piece of work. One minute I find myself elated by the possibilities of the work and the next plunged into depression over another piece.
However when I stand back I realize that we have stumbled upon a place filled with wonderful people, who have made use of the opportunities we have given them.
5 Wager Street is becoming a shared sitting room. We are doing the Christmas decoration event with the mums next week. the play sessions and the youth sessions are melded into one. The young people support the children, the children welcome new children into the sessions, Bengali ones at that, so much for the stereo typical label of racism.
My colleague this morning was telling me about how one LBTH RSL had said how it was impossible to heal the rift between the elders and the teenagers.
Not on Bede. Here a grandmother volunteered to supervise the youth club for a couple of hours. The kids were happy with this and helped her lock up after they had finished. Do we sometimes paint our children and communities in the worst possible colours so that we make ourselves appear more impressive? ‘Oh you should see the estate/kids/ children/tenant/young people that I have to deal with. They are dreadful.’ There seems to be a thought process that leads people to think that if they describe their estates as the very worst , they will inspire high esteem and respect from others. This is not supporting the community at all. It gives the place a bad reputation which becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. If it was indeed ‘the worst’, how would such an attitude help?
Off to a session there right now. Note to self, buy extra glitter….
Two lovely quotes.
Until recently one of the squares on the estate had long neglected planting squares in it. In October a community project took place to repair and replant these raised beds.
A local teenager was asked how the square and the flower beds were looking now. It turned out that he was taking care of the planter he had worked on. ‘I aint gonna mess it up.’ He said. ‘I planted that.’
A local resident who has lived on the estate pretty much all her life was thinking about the proposals to open a up a large green space that previously had only been opened to mow the grass. This will be the first of the new ‘parks’ on the estate. ‘ Oh. I’ll be able to sit and read my book and look at the trees. We was never allowed to play there when we was kids’.
Christmas decoration making workshop at 5 Wager Street.
Suzannah and Penny prepared a workshop with maximum glitter and fun. The mums had been eager to have a session ‘just for us with no kids’. This was partly said in fun and partly serious. I think they liked the idea of something for them. A woman stopped Cathy and Penny on their way in to the shop and said she wouldn’t come to a Christmas decoration workshop but she would come to a bingo session. This request was made several times during the day.
Cathy and I Cleaned up a fair amount. The place does need to be cared for as , like every other shared facility it begins to look shabby quickly and broken window syndrome kicks in.
The mums were slow to arrive, Cathy had to go out head hunting and they began to drift in. There were a couple of children around too. They were ill and off school. There were some nasty bugs around. . anyway the room looked so cute. We dimmed the lights so that the fairy lit bottle glowed and Suzannah made beautiful candles. The women made baubles and decorated bunches of withies with stuck on glitter, fairy lights and other sparkly bits.
The session ran over time, but we were having a great time and I don’t think any one wanted to stop. The banter amongst the women was sharp and fast and incredibly funny. It was a very comfortable group to be a part of. I have seldom felt so accepted and so at home. It felt like a consolidation of the work that we had done with the kids. So natural to do something for mums to enjoy, a play session for themselves. And they threw themselves at the afternoon with all the exuberance of children at play. This is a compliment, not a put down. It is rare to find a group of adults who have the lust for life, the zest and appetite to share playfulness with their friends and for themselves in the skilful way that children do. We mentioned the ‘Perfect Christmas’ vote. It seemed that we were very successful in getting a lot of votes and we wanted to make sure that all the mums had used their vote. It would be so great to have a big free party for them in their ugly grim car park. To have something that made them feel special in a good way.
“The uglier it is, the stronger the message: ‘you don’t deserve beauty: what you do is not worth very much.’” David Sillito on public space design in 360 CABE Issue 23 Autumn 2010
One mum in particular was eager to get home to be there when her teenage son arrived back. There is a huge amount of delicate and attentive parenting going on here. It gets misinterpreted I think, the style is not Super Nanny or Mary Poppins, but it is every bit as robust and solid and dependable. It is grounded in a fierce love. You can certainly see it reciprocated in the children. They show concern for their parents and neighbours and tease them and test them and make them laugh.
I was listening to an account of a child I know quite well from a member of staff. Her view was entirely at odds with my own experience of him. I glanced out the window to see him carrying the shopping trolley of one of the elders down the temporary staircase.
‘More than one thing can be true at the same time.’
Voting closed on the Perfect Christmas. We heard nothing. Could it be that this place was not pretty enough or middle class enough to fit the Sainsburys criteria? It was fun to play with the vague possibility that the advert, shot in a darling little village in Yorkshire or somewhere, could be recreated for the pre-Christmas sainsburys rush advertising on this estate. I did want them to have a lovely surprise.
Several other things happened over that last week or so.
There had been a robbery in the area. Police action had followed. The young people were at once assumed to be responsible. But on CCTV footage, there was no sign of them being part of the operation.
Again, a young person found playing in the stairwells was sent a warning notice. Three strikes and your out… he was not part of the discussion and didn’t know a complaint had been made about him til the notice arrived. There are few issues at work here.
Innocent until proven guilty?
The rights of the young person for adequate representation.
The creating of a set of policies, and the initiation of those policies, after the event. (You have broken a law that we just made up.)
The assumption that the this section of the community of the estate are wrong’uns.
I lack of understanding of the culture of the young person and an assumption that he is racist.
Not understanding the behaviour of adolescents, mistaking ordinary hi-jinks for anti social behaviour. (My son was given a short term exclusion from his rubbish outside London school because he wouldn’t tuck his shirt in. Had he been found teaching the youngest children in the school how to shoot up I would have had every sympathy with the school.)
The assumption that telling young people off and threatening them with a punishment will make them change their ways. This organization need s to have its tenants on side. They should work with this kid and they would find a loyal supporter in him. Work against him and he will turn against you. Simples!
In the last play session I took part in there was a grandmother daughter and granddaughter. The two mums were concerned that the young people were in the session every week. I explained that they were helping me out and that the sessions would be moving onto the squares as soon as possible and I would need them all the time there. ‘Yes but I don’t want her’ (pointing to a 5 year old granddaughter) ‘to know the things they know’. I must remember that while I am delighted with the ideas of playable space and an end to age segregation, that we do need to ring fence time that is just for the little ones. The teenagers have their time and we will try to make sure the mums do too. And any other group that wants it. The children lead such adulterated lives already, we have to be alert to their right to play without having to compromise their childishness. This is hard to do when street savvy bolshy teenagers are swearing all around you and discussing sex.
Walked around the estate with Bernard Spiegal from PLAYLINK in the snow. It was fantastic to have Andy Osborn –project manager –join us.
(I find myself looking for excuses to visit the estate now. I know I will always see some-one I know and have a chat. Had C knock the window to me today. She invited me in and introduced me to the grandchildren. We had a natter while she cooked savaloys and tomato soup, comfort food for cold children.. It felt good. As we walked around there were always clutches of people talking and there was always a word to be shared Ch wanted me to arrange some training for her. M had a picture of a thing that some-one had tripped over in the snow. G needed a friendly contact over the two week break. T and M needed to know when the club would open again.)
So in the freezing snowy conditions Bernard and Andy and I walked the triangular estate and looked at the new build and the spaces and the people. There was a group of young people roaming all around the place it felt a welcoming place not the ASBO land nightmare that its reputation boasts. It this desire to have a tough reputation the equivalent of leather jackets and tattoos, it is armour plating? We are tough so we will not get taken advantage of? Is it like the fighting frill on the bearded dragon? (Look how big and tough and scary I am). Is it a reputation generated by the residents or the estates staff dating back to some distant point in the past… ‘I work on the X estate’ -answer comes in tones of impressed awe ‘Blimey, do you. Its really rough down there. I don’t know how you cope with it.’
Whatever it is I simply don’t feel it.
I walk through the place and fruit tree lined boulevards spring up before my eyes, wide pavements sprout beautiful swinging seats and fountains. The desolate gray spaces bubble and burst into English country gardens, (John Riley House) community play gardens filled with growing beds for households and a Children’s garden. In the Portia Way triangle I see a circular goldfish pond with a tinkling fountain and a lipped edge to sit on while you admire the water lilies.
I can see the gently mounded kick about area with a curling slate topped gabion wall just right for all sorts of being there… there are picnic tables and beautiful stands of slender silver birch or sculpted conifers, every block of flats has an elegant doorway and there is wisteria and passion flower and fruiting vines and Virginia creeper and all year round it feels like a luxury country estate. It is beautiful.
Rose tinted spectacles?
Perhaps. But my version of a quirkily moasiaced haven is as doable as any other. I like seeing the world this way. I sometimes get the split screen effect that allows me my preferred version of the place a whilst also seeing some-one else’s.
I have to tell you. My way is better.
Some Bede photos…