Cathy and Penny had met with a couple of the older kids the previous day and explained that we needed them to support a session with the little ‘uns. we also promised to work towards them getting another evening session for the older kids and that we would try to find a way of helping them out with some advocacy to support them in their relationships with the estates office. They agreed to allow the little ones to have their time uninterrupted. and were true to their word. We also said we would set the doors to ‘exit only’ so that the session could not be crashed. A small investment in time spent listening to them and explaining the situation paid dividends.

We had seven children, the atmosphere started out a little challenging but as the children found that their arguments were not treated as a big deal and that both sides of a dispute were both treated softly, the interest in conflict waned.

Inga, Habiba, Bekki, Cathy and I worked the session, two mums joined us for a while but soon felt ok to leave us to it, even though they had been very guarded after the troubled session the week before.

It was amazing to see the children melt into childhood. They found a bucket of sand and poured it onto a sheet of plastic playing with small world toys on it. They painted, they made stuff and face painted, all tightly gathered round one table to work together.
A game of football with a sponge ball knocked a ceiling tile out, so after that they were joked into playing in stocking feet. They saw that we knew it was an accident and tempered their game afterwards.

When a child picked up a small world dolphin to throw at another kid who had been goading him, I saw a chance to make a game of this. ‘No throwing dolphins at any time’ I said and wrote it on a wall (white board paint… genius.) I had to amend this to include all large sea life. From then on the rules on the wall became a motif.
‘No two people can be Michael Jackson at any one time’
‘no boys or girls in this area’
‘there will be no laziness here’
‘ you may use your hands’
you may not use your hands’

At the end of the session we closed by expanding the silly rules game. One child suggested that we collect all these rules together and invent loads more and print them out on the computer so they looked like proper rules. They totally got the joke. They are surrounded by ‘no’. This is a way of saying that this space and time is different.

Some of the kids who had been the hardest became so soft playing in pop-up tents, painting the faces of sworn enemies, taking orders and serving drinks to each other. One of them said to me, three times, in a voice of mild surprise,’ I like this. it feels good’.
The clear up took a long time but this was almost deliberate, they needed a long wind down. Each child wanted a responsibility to tend to the session. The clear up felt like keeping it private, special, it felt like a gentle practical looking after each other. One kid wanted to do more photography, we will bring them some cheap cameras and maybe go on some camera trips, also a trip to Glamis at the half term break. We have suggested that we turn the shop into a beach one week. They wanted to understand the plans for the development of the estate in their own detail. One child from the tower block when asked what she would like to discover when she walked out of the block in the morning said ‘a club like this and a park with sand and water.’

It felt unique, an evening of firsts. The children have fought hard for their right to play, though it is doubtful that they have ever played freely in quite this way. They were all surprised by the ease with which they suddenly became children again. Their faces and words and body language relaxed. They became small and wonderful. They said they wanted to name the session ‘the Little ‘Uns’ (not quite true, they wanted to call it the E3 Little ‘Uns’ but I said no to the postcodes. There was no argument).

It was an utter joy and it felt as if the clouds of pressure to be cool had been lifted. I am reminded of the quote from the child at Glamis, comparing their life inside and outside the boundary fence, ‘out there I have to be so hard, but in here, I can just play.’

And great news. The number of reported ASBs has plummeted on the Bede estate since the service was opened to the children and young people. Yeay!!!!!