February 2011


22nd January

We had more kids coming to today’s session than in recent weeks, the milder weather enticing people back! We played lots of chase games, and painted, and swung in the hammock chatting and catching up! 

24th January

 At today’s session we played both indoors and out, with lots of painting, play fighting, pretending to be monsters and making monsters too!

29th January

We had a lively session with our regular kids at the first square today, making kites and playing in the hammock, testing how many people it could hold till the net stretched down to the ground! Two new boys joined the session and joined in some games we played with the rope- skipping and doing the limbo game! Masud joined the session today, the girls teased him for sitting down till they got him up and skipping!

The next square was quiet, just 2 girls came out today, we played chase games and hide and seek. At the last square we had our usual kids, the brother and sister. The boy was happy to meet another male play worker and spent most the session with Masud playing chase and building a spider web from sticky tape.

 1st February

Quite a session took place today. A few kids came by and chatted to Inga and Habiba about how they weren’t allowed to stay out long in the cold but did a little painting and chalking while they were there. One girl, who has become a regular over the last few weeks, came with her mum and spent her time playing chase and hide and seek.

3rd February

Loads of kids came today and lots of games were going on at the same time, lots of arts and crafts took place and some ball games and chase. Some of the children chose to use the face paints, transforming each other into butterflies, vampires, etc!

 5th February

It’s been a windswept session! We had plenty of our regular kids at the first square, playing in the hammock and racing about with the kites but no children came out at the next square. The last square was busy again with our regulars and a group of 10 new children joining us to play, they’d walked over from Roman Road and Masud knew them from his other play sessions in their area. A few of them had some attitude, asking why we here as though we shouldn’t be but we had good games with them, playing with the kite and rope. At the end, however, they were annoyed we didn’t agree to let them keep the rope so they went and tied it to a tree with many knots, making it as hard as possible for us to take it either.

 8th February

There was a bright and cheerful atmosphere on the session today and it was a bright day. Quite a few kids joined us and played chasing, painting and swing games. A few kids played at taking Rainer’s hat to make him chase them which turned into a game of ‘It’ with a big group of kids, some younger ones joined in too and were totally part of the game although nobody ‘caught’ them as they were too small to catch anyone else again! Towards the end of the session Inga did some knitting with some of the girls and Rainer and Habiba had a long game of ‘Grandma’s footsteps’. A few of the kids who hadn’t been out for very long through the winter were able to stay for the whole session today. Zoe and Tess (previous play workers for PATH) came back to visit the session which was really nice.

 9th February

Today Rainer, Inga and Tania (a resident volunteer) worked on the session and 11 children came. Painting and jewellery making took place on the wooden table while a boy played football with a couple of girls over on the grass area, saying he would only play football with them because they weren’t ‘girly girls’! A 6 year old girl had a gleeful glitter fight with a 4 year old boy, they had a great time and left the session with shimmering heads of glitter-hair. However, one mum was unhappy that this was wasteful.

 Rainer and Inga had draped kitchen roll across the climbing frame to make it look different today and the kids really liked it, they decorated it further with some thread and coloured it with chalk. When it got dark they found some lights for it and it looked really nice.

 It feels like the kids here know each other well and are mostly pretty nice to each other, at one point the older kids played football being careful of the younger children sat drawing on the paving with chalk.

10th February

Today’s session took place inside today as it rained heavily, one of the children had a bad headache and the others were asked to keep the session quiet for him. Lots of crafts took place, the kids made Valentine’s cards but said they didn’t want to take them to give to anyone so instead we hung them up to display them! There were some nice play with face paints taking place too, the kids began painting Rainer’s face, then did each others. Some children did animals and things, others did abstract designs with lots of little squares and circles.

1 boy had complained of being bored for a while but then began to show Rainer some gymnastics moves on the sofa, falling onto it in a back drop then bouncing back up! The others started joining in (they’re allowed to do this without shoes!) and they made it into a game of running and flipping without touching the arm of the sofa. This game carried on for the best part of an hour yet didn’t get too wild as it often has been when jumping on the sofa games began here! In recent weeks we’ve noticed the kids getting really hyper after having their hot chocolate- we’re hoping to avoid the sugar highs in future by giving them fruit smoothies instead!

At the end of the session, one boy wanted to mop the floor and did a great job of it, he’s someone who’s been rude and testing the boundaries of the play workers to begin with but has had a much calmer couple of weeks now. These sessions feel like they’re getting much happier and more established in general now.

 

12th February

We had several kids coming today and the weather was much milder, making it possible to sit still long enough to do some craft stuff again! We turned a large piece of white fabric into a colourful montage of many children’s drawings with bright coloured fabric crayons, the girls drawing lots of hearts with their minds on the approach of Valentine’s Day! One girl spent ages decorating a piece of paper by covering it with some plastic film we’d brought and then weaving strips of black tape across it, it looked fantastic. She told me she wants to be an artist but her parents will never let her be one, they want her to do a ‘sensible job’, I helped her make a sketch from some of our coloured paper to take home and practise on. Another boy added some decorations onto our kite and tied it to his scooter, nearly crashing into everyone else as he scooted fast looking back to watch it!

 The next square was quiet, just one girl came out to join us and we continued our drawings on the white fabric. At the last square we played on the climbing frame, the prison game returning with one of our regular girls who’s kept wanting to play that for many months- she always takes the role of prison keeper, instructing us in daily tasks in return for shillings! Her younger brother played a war game with Rainer and we played hide and seek chase altogether.

15th February

This session was quiet and cold, 5 or so children came, mostly girls. They drew flowers and shells on some fabric with fabric crayons and one girl brought some knitting that she’d been working on at home to show Inga who had begun it with her the week before. 2 mums stayed to the session too and one of them showed the girl some more knitting techniques. Meanwhile Rainer and a boy played ‘It’.

 

17th February

Today’s session had indoor and outdoor play, inside the kids sat in the plastic discs and span in them, outside there were chase games. Some of the children started climbing the scaffolding from building works at the estate though the play workers didn’t encourage this.

 Chloe, who lives on the estate and volunteers with the sessions, mentioned that the games played out here are much higher energy on the days the play workers come.

At the end of the session the boy who had mopped the floor last week wanted to do it again, he made his mum wait outside for him for half an hour while he mopped every bit of floor and cleaned the walls and tables.

20th February

It rained all day today and was much colder resulting in a quiet session today. Habiba and I were joined by a Chloe, who is quite new to play work, and picked her brains for new game ideas from her sports background! For the first 30 minutes no children came out but we set about playing a skipping game and saw several kids watching us from their windows! One of regular girls came out and joined in the skipping, then we stood chatting under umbrellas about homework, bears and trips to see cousins.

 At the next square we also had just one girl coming out to play, we know her well now, she always begins games and then finds a reason not to play herself but try to get everyone else chasing about, changing rules to suit just her and we teased her about it. We played on the hammock with her, then the hammock became a classroom and we were her students- she created a chart to mark our names with happy or sad faces depending on our behaviour!

 At the last square we mostly played with 2 of our regular kids though some older girls who used to join our sessions were walking round the estate in groups and came by for a bit. We ran a lot, playing hide and seek chase and a power-rangers inspired play fighting type game with the younger boy. Lots of curtain twitching took place today, some from wistful children wanting to play but some felt uncomfortable, I had a feeling one guy was angry about the noise we made in the game as the boy was especially into his super hero energy today and we met it enthusiastically, the acoustics at this square make sound echo and multiply far more than other places!

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8th January 2011 This was our first week back after the Christmas holidays and we received a really nice welcome back from the kids. The sessions at all three squares on the estate were a bit busier than usual. We made hammocks and did some crafts folding sugar paper, then games of high jump and limbo with a skipping rope. The next square was great with lots of kids coming out when they saw us. What’s great about this square is that the kids here feel much more of a group and when we play children of all ages seem really comfortable together with the older ones considering the younger ones. This square is private, open only to residents, you have to buzz the intercom to enter, and they’ve created a nice community for themselves. The children here all know each other yet they tell us they don’t play out together here much when we’re not here, perhaps their parents don’t encourage it as it isn’t obviously a play space, being just an empty square without equipment that often has rubbish blown across it from an overfull bin area. The kids have sometimes pointed to an area where they say rats live but we’ve never seen any sign of it, possibly because we always make too much noise! Today we played chase games and hide and seek- the old favourites here. 15th January We had a lively session at the first square, making the most of the sunny, windy day by flying kites we made from paper or just brightly coloured plastic bags on strings. Some boys returned who we hadn’t seen in a few months but they remembered the game we’d played last time and began recreating it- a war between humans and aliens with lots of play fighting, they wanted to be captured and taken to the prison (hammock) so they could gleefully escape again. I spent some time making and playing on a hammock with 2 girls. The boys had taken control of the main hammock but we had some extra net and the girls sought out an alternative space to hang another one in a corner of the square between a lamppost and a locked metal door handle. They told me they had to be careful not to step onto the grass because that corner was by an elderly lady’s flat and she would yell at kids for walking on the patch of grass in front. “Not even one foot”… At the second square we were soon joined by our regular kids, we had a game of football which began seriously and ended with a lot of playful cheating, trying to wrap opponents in net, or hi-jack the goal keeper! The last square was much quieter though a group of girls in their early teens who we used to see a lot last summer stopped by for a chat. 18th January Just a few children came to the session today, a few of the regular kids came out briefly to say hi but said their mums didn’t want them out in the cold too long. A new girl came with her mum, they’ve just moved over from Moldova, they were asking all about the sessions and to play for a while. 20th January Today was a messy session, lots of painting, hand printing and paint flicking! We played football indoors with a soft ball and made friendship bracelets too. 22nd January As soon as we arrived two of our regular girls ran out and wanted to tie the hammock in the new place they’d discovered last week. We’d started playing at doing some gymnastics moves with it last week and they wanted to continue- we bunched the net into a rope and did forward rolls over it. This week I showed them a harder version where you hold the rope and walk up the wall then kick your legs back to backwards roll back over. They tried it many times before they could do it and when they got it they were so pleased and proud of themselves. We went on to the second square. It feels much friendlier towards us now, some of the mums smile when they pass us on the stairs coming in or as they take their rubbish out to the bins in the square where we play. Now we have a bigger piece of hammock net we can make the hammock in this square too and the kids loved it, we hung it high so it was a challenge to get in and out of it but after protests they couldn’t do it, most of them found their own way of doing it! We had a chase game where the person who was it had to wear ‘the skanky wig’ till they caught someone and had a tug of war with the rope, 2 older boys wanting to take on all the younger kids and us together!

Another wonderful session in the twilight with a candlelit gazebo. The children were helpful and mixed comfortably.  One guy came out to help us because his mum saw the tent blowing away as we tried to get the site sorted out. 

Mum and daughter suggested making paper aeroplanes today and that was very popular. The children seem to expect a lot of help to do tasks that I would have expected them to be able to do on themselves. Gradually, by doing less and less and showing the children how to do it for themselves a little more, that dependency is changing.  When they understand this the children take the agenda on themselves. They organise great games of chase and hide and seek on their own and the adults can step back and chat and just watch the gate to keep an eye on who leaves and who arrives. It feels relaxed and friendly. About 13 Children joined in this session with three Mums, a resident Cathy and myself. 

What is lovely is that the children are developing their friendships alongside the adults who are doing the same thing. ‘I never spoke to R before we started these sessions and now here we are her and her sister and I planning a Bangladesh Independence day party together.’ All the women muck in together to prepare, run and pack up the session . It is what we have been aiming for.  At the end of the evening I told the children that I would not be with them next week as I would be in America giving a talk. They asked what I was talking about and I was proud to tell them that these very play sessions would be the main content of the presentation. What a great feeling to let them know that they are celebrated far far away.

Leaving the session always feels like waking from a dream. This is a joyful experience.

I showed my Director Glenys Tolley the photos that I had taken at the candle lit session, the sense of magic reached her too.

 On a related note. I had the privilege of taking Michael Rowan around the two estates, Eric and Treby and Bede today. I wanted to check out my ideas for planting, which he knows a lot about and does beautifully.  Although the estates border Mile End Park, he did not know them well. I was delighted that our ideas chimed and although I had imagined planting that would not thrive in a couple of places, the sense of the planting and having a low maintenance continuous beauty on the two estates was a real possibility. It was also great to get a view of the corridors of biodiversity that could run from Mile End Park through the estates to the Cemetery Park. That has to be time well spent.

I joined in  a meeting with Rockcorps organiser  Safia Noor. This has got my brain working on identifying a project that we could do with Rockcorps to develop an area for play . 

Then a visit to Central Girls Foundation School with the art teacher and the Resistant Materials tutor. We are planning for a group of the girls to make perspex birds to hang in the trees in the liminal spaces. This is very exciting as it allows the girls a chance to use their work in a fairly high profile installation and gives them a sense of participation in the park. This is lovely project to have an ending to the LAP 5 work. What a flourish!

 After that I dropped into number 5 Wager Street. I hoped to clear up some details of a workshop with a graffiti artist who will be working with the community of the site hoardings and ask about some contacts with the green grid and the superhighway projects and the regeneration work on the estates. However there was a consultation event going on about stairways and access routes and stuff. But there was one woman- who I had previously met earlier in the project when she was doing voluntary work in St Paul’s Church. She gave me a lot of useful information and ideas about the redesign of one of the play spaces on the periphery of the estate. It turns out that there are about 30 children living around this space. They are all from Bengali families and the woman was concerned that they had a good play offer. She spoke with fondness of her own childhood in the countryside, of hours spent in woods playing with trees and streams and was keen that the children should have a little taste of this outside their front door.  We also agreed that the redevelopment of the area should not be attractive from the road side, this should be a small private garden. ‘Less is more’, we decided.

Then rushing off to the play session on Eric Street.

 All in all a really productive day.

The younger ones came to the session today, 15 of them.

 A couple of mums stayed for most of the time and Rainer, Inga and Habiba as well as Cathy and Penny were there. 

The session took off really quickly, even before we had managed to pack away the pool table. (We find that having the pool table there is like having a screen on. It draws the attention to it all the time and monopolises the agenda of the session. The children cannot focus on playing because they are yearning to play pool). However when it is out is occupies all the space in the room and makes it impossible for the children to play without elbows getting jogged. And there are always rows about who goes next, who cheated etc…)

 The children wanted to decorate the hut and draw and make things.

 I brought a camera in for them and the pink sari fabric that had caused a bit of dissent in an earlier session.

When the kids saw the fabric their response was exactly the same as I had heard on that first play session.’ We don’t want that Indian fabric here. Take it away. We are white and this is our home.’

 This was an echo of what I had heard from the other group saying. ‘we hate pakis.  They get everything and we don’t. Their houses get done up all new and ours don’t.’

 These little ones saying the same thing. ‘We don’t want no Indian stuff here.’ They are talking about a piece of fabric and they are being this harsh, how do the non-white residents of the estate feel?

 Habiba and a new Bengali boy were sitting together getting to know each other.

I asked, what about Habiba? She’s our friend, she’s part of this group.

There was uncomfortable silence. Almost as if they had assumed every one in the room was white, like them. They had not noticed she was Asian.

‘She’s not Indian, She’s Bengali’. She escaped condemnation on a technicality.

 No one was unpleasant to the little boy. We all made a quiet fuss of him. He kept close to the adults and especially Habiba.  He also said to me that he felt uncomfortable because no-one was speaking his language.

‘But you told Ma all that  in English and I understood you perfectly. Why don’t you teach me some Bengali? ‘ (When Cathy checked with His Mum this morning she said he had loved it and wouldn’t stop talking about what a good time he had had.  This is great news and we hope that he starts to come along regularly.)

By the end of the session Habiba and these same kids who had reacted with such hostility to the sari fabric, were having a rough and tumble play on the settees.  They were all giggling and joking together so relaxed and happy. A superb piece of playwork from Habiba.

Meanwhile Rainer was having a difficult time of his own with some of the kids overstepping the mark and testing his boundaries.

As usual there was a lot of lovely stuff but this racism made the atmosphere tense. There were also phone calls from some of the mums to their kids telling them not to leave the centre because there was a big gang of Asians on their way over to the estate.

 The reaction of fear from the kids was immediate and genuine, then the bravado came back and a  panicky stressed  sort of playing started. There was a lot of chocolate and sweet milky drinks taken by the kids during this session, they were more hyper than I had seen them before. At about six o clock three boys came in. They were all carrying stout wooden sticks and putting on very male mannerisms. Cathy did an amazing bit of work and brought them into the centre and got them to sit and chat and make necklaces.    They asked me to run another session, as this one clashed with a club they went to, and I said I would if I could find the money to fund it.

 They were the last to leave, and they went off collected there sticks again and started to harass the shop keeper next door.  Again Cathy made them come back and apologise to him, I went in the shop with them as they did it – in a fake Indian accent.

Disappointing.

I am trying to find more Bengali playworkers who will take this on, being kind and loving to the kids so they have a different experience in their lives.

 After all many of them go to Christian schools and mix with white families on an estate that is predominantly white. Their lack of understanding about nationalities and their disconnect between the abstract idea about other cultures and their relationships with Habiba et al,  makes me think that this is not so much a racist response, not yet. We still have time to avoid that.

 And, perhaps today was the end of our honeymoon period and we are in for a few weeks of the Treacle moon. There is always a point when the relationships of trust are established and the testing begins. May be this is our test.

 Today was Holocaust Memorial Day

I found this session one of the most moving that I have ever experienced. Words failed me as I tried to record it the following day. All I could do was to try to capture the spirit of it using the photographs that I took. Hopefully, this power point will be available shortly. Until then, let me say that a local resident took the impetus and organised a gazebo lit with fairy lights, hot drinks and candles. The children and mums were rounded up and spent the whole session with us. Rainer, Cathy and I supported the session but the children and the mums seized the moment.

They children and the Mums told me how they wanted the open spaces on their estate to be developed and drew me pictures and told me stories. They painted and made beaded strings. They lit candles and night lights in the tree crown and made dens with transparent fabric. The wonder and delicacy of their treatment of the tiny flame was amazing . One girl was so enchanted with the flickering flame of the candle that she asked permission to take it into her house for her mother. Step by faltering step she carried the torch upstairs to her flat. I went with her and was rather nervous of the greeting that we would get, but need not have worried, it was as warm and beautiful as the flame itself.

Another girl said, ‘Let’s put everything negative into this flame.’ Let’s let the magic of this destroy the bad stuff.

During the session a local councilor was doing a walk about on the estate with some of the RSL employees. I was glad they had seen what was going on.

The session over ran considerably, and none of us noticed. Eventually the children and mums went home and we tidied away. I felt moved and a little stunned by what had just happened.

As a part of our deal with the young people to leave the ‘Little ‘Uns’ session undisturbed, the previous evening, Cathy and I had promised to open the centre so that the young people could welcome some visitors from the USA to their club. They have made these friendships over the last few years through their work with the Tabernacle youth work project. They spoke so fondly and with a quiet pride, it was obvious that they wanted to welcome these friends to their own club.

However the visitors all had jet lag and they were clearly disappointed. But their mood was lovely and gentle and cozy and they chatted and played pool and wrote on the walls and were absolutely mellow and friendly. The shop front felt more than ever like a sitting room.

Some of the young people I had not got to know so well came in and one guy discovered that he and I had met before at his school in a ‘consultation’ about their Building Schools for the Future open space plan. We were both delighted to remember where we had met each other before.

The conversations and humour were great. It was mellow and lovely and I really did not want to leave them. My son had a load of mates around at the weekend and it was hard to see any difference in the close family atmosphere at home and that of Wager street that evening. I felt that I should behave like a guest, because I am- that was understood and I was made to feel at home. A good couple of hours of life.

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