May 2011

Painting with Stik. Playing with street art.

When the community play development work first began on the Bede Estate it was clear that the estates officer was keen to have some graffiti work done by young people with the rest of the neighbourhood joining in. PATH had already got close contacts with the well respected street artist Stik.
When the go ahead was given for this work to happen, all of us were a little surprised at the complete lack of opposition to the project.Stik has a slightly unusual in his approach to his work. While his pieces are well respected and very well loved by those who choose them as their personal land markers, he also is keen to use his work to promote a better understanding between landlords, councils, police, young people and graffiti artists. He also has a way of being with people that builds friendship and mutual respect. He has studied Playwork and is a thoughtful gentle and considerate presence with children and young people. Like his stick people, he has a simple wise way with the world.
Stik was happy to come and work on this estate. He suggested that, rather than working on the hoardings,which are temporary, the young people would gain a greater sense of their own investment in their neighbourhood if they were to paint the shutters on the parade of shops.

East End Homes, the Registered Social landlord, had renovated two of the shops for community use. PATH looked likely to move into this parade as well, relocating their offices to be closer to a community. It was with the two EEH shutters that the project began.

The first morning was a little bit full on. Historically the young people on this estate have been viewed with mistrust bordering on dislike by the RSL. All their lives they have been told what they cannot do in the spaces they live on. I have heard many complaints about their troublesome behaviours turning the next minute to see from the office window, one of the ‘ringleaders’ helping an older woman carry her shopping. My experience of the children and young people had been a very pleasant one. Indeed the ‘full on-ness’ of the first day was not hostile rather excitable. Some of the adults were not happy with the eyesore that were being created, however as the work developed through the first day and the community watched heir young people and children working together, in their usual quick witted kindly way, they began to warm to the project. The fumes were a problem but we made every effort to keep the number of cans at a time to a minimum.

After the two shutters had been painted we were surprised to find that both Rita’s the hair dressers and the Crusty loaf bakery were enthusiastic about having their shutters painted as well. The staff of the bakery even joined in the painting, though mostly they stood and watched and laughed at the kids work and antics.’we like the kids round here. We have never really had trouble with them. They are just like we were at their age.’

At last, with a little bit of cajoling we got permission to paint Cost Cutters three shutters as well. That meant that the whole parade would be decorated by stick figures clothed and accessorised by the children and young people.

It was interesting to see the number of times a Nike Swoosh or similar branding was added to the figures. Stik was quite clear that unless Nike was funding the artists their branding should not appear.
There were a couple of attempts to add swastikas as well. At the times when these were added, work was stopped until the image was removed. There were a couple of issues at work here one was the shock value of the symbol and the false association of pride in the community, the other was a lack of understanding at the depth of the significance of the symbol. It had transgressive rather than genocidal connotations.

The flag of St George was skipped into the designs in many subtle ways, and was equally subtly edited out. (It is curious that on this estate at the end of the road the tower of St Georges Church in Limehouse, the flag of St George flys from the flag pole, carrying a different set of signifiers.) This became a piece of game play between artist and young people.
This work was taking place the week before St Georges day, Easter and a little before the Royal Wedding. Having explored the irritation values of the national flag and racist iconography, one young person said he wanted to make one of the figures Jesus, because ‘there’s nothing done for the White man round here no more. ‘ A brief theological debate established the facts that Jesus was not White, he was a Jew and that Islam reveres him as one of their prophets. The issue was not pursued again.

As the week moved on we found more and more friend s and allies .The parade began to look great, the behaviour from every one involved became calmer. The health worries connected to the spray fumes was managed better, where folks had to be exposed to the smell for any length of time, they were given face masks.

The press came to photograph the work and street art photographers and a documentary film crew spent time with the artist and the young people as well.. The atmosphere was relaxed and in the end Stik was happy to say that he didn’t need any more help to manage the situation. The ambassadorial role was no longer necessary to ensure his comfortable place within this tight, protective community.

So on Good Friday, He painted the last panel alone with the children and young people to help him complete his works. The neighbours right next to the parade of shops are in the habit of sitting out in their front yards in the evening sun. They watched with mixed reactions. The initial hostility calmed down as they realised that we were working with the children and young people.

One of the close neighbours had been fairly upset and hostile at the start of the project. Stik and I made a point of talking to her, that was easy and lovely. She had a great new pup and we found it perfectly lovely to talk with her as we played with the dog. We became friendly with her. She was clear that she did not like the piece. However a couple of weeks later she called me over. ‘ I still don’t Ike it’ she said, ‘ But half the people round here do like it, and we all have to live with each others likes and dislikes.’

Bravo.That, I thought, was exactly the point.

Thanks to Stik and to East End Homes for the inspiration and hard work involved in this piece of building.


1st March 2011 

Today’s session went well with lots of painting, knitting and swinging.

 3rd March ‘11

We ran today’s session outside on the estate, with 2 playworkers on each of the 2 squares. Rainer and I made a tent with some young children who came out to play, a brother and sister both under 5 years old. We played at pretending to be monsters and they protected their tent home from us! We also painted and later played at race and long jump games with them, drawing starting and finishing lines on the ground with chalk. Some older boys came over to join us and we played hide and seek, then did a series of challenges- a race, an arm wrestle, an escape game and a balance contest!

 Meanwhile, Habiba and Inga had a good session at the other square after an initial bit of trouble with some of the boys throwing the paint around at each other and trying to ruin another girl’s painting. However, it ended when one of them fell over into the paint- he laughed a lot at himself then hurried home to change clothes before he got in trouble with his grandma! They also played at dressing up and one of the younger boys wanted them to make him a sari which he then wore to the shop. Some more kids arrived with toy guns and had a long game of running and pretending to shoot each other.

 5th March’11

 Today was sunny but with a cold wind. We had a fairly quiet session with some of our regular children at the first square, then just one girl who came to play out at the next. She rode her bike round and enjoyed Rainer and Inga chasing her round and trying to catch her in some blue net…carefully! They also had a long game with a dreadlock wig, the girl claiming it gave her the power to freeze the playworkers when she put it on and make them do whatever she wanted! A lot of this girl’s games revolve around power but it stays playful! Eventually the dreadlocks started breaking off the wig which the playworkers seized, saying they too now had the power and the game folded into happy chaos with lots of chasing each other round in circles.

 8th March ‘11

Today’s session was pretty busy, a sunny day for playing outside. Rainer was playing chase with 2 young children when 3 six year old girls came over and wanted to join in, they linked hands to make a human chain to catch Rainer in, calling Inga over to help them get him! Later Inga was involved in lots of knitting with a few girls while the others played on the swing and rode their bikes around. Most the children stayed till the end of the session which was great but some just passed by, stopping to do a quick bit of painting or have a quick turn in the hammock. The usual group of mums came along with their kids too but seemed much more relaxed about leaving the kids to get on with their play unsupervised while they got absorbed in a beauty catalogue and chatting together.

 10th March ‘11

We made a hammock for the first time at this estate today and it was very popular, the kids had lots of fun but with lots of small squabbles over turns and how long each person had the right to stay in for! We let them get on with organising it as far as possible but stayed nearby, although the hammock was barely a couple of inches from the ground and had little scope for anyone hurting themselves by falling out, I felt very aware of being watched by some extremely ‘health and safety’ conscious eyes!

We also made kites with the kids and drew obstacle courses to run along with the chalk. One local resident leaned out her window to shout at me about it being too cold for the children to be playing outside, she was put out that the shop wasn’t open to provide the inside play space today. I tried to show her the kids were happy and warm from moving about but she made the decision not to let her granddaughter come out.

The 18 year old sisters of one of the boys who plays out here came along and got involved in the session, suggesting some games to the kids and initiating a chalk drawing game where she drew a starting shape on the floor and the kids used the shape as a start point for whatever picture they chose.

The kids were reluctant to let us pack the hammock up at the end of the session, taking lots of ‘just one quick last go’s but with promises to bring it back next week we eventually got it down!

 17th March 2011

We made smoothies with the kids today which was popular as well as a solution to avoiding some sugar- hyper behaviour! We played with paint and the bubbles too and the session flew by.

19th March 2011

It’s been sunny for today’s session and we had our 4 new playworker trainees with us today, our regular kids were curious to come and get to know them. They brought some new energy and game ideas to the session, one game involved several people lying on the spinning round table and reaching over to see who could pick up items thrown in by an outside person. We also played ‘Off the ground chase’ where you couldn’t be caught if you your feet were off the ground because you were hanging off something… until your arms gave out that is… good, strength-building play!

The next square was more hectic, lots of kids came out and everyone played together in a long game of chase. We chalked a couple of ‘homes’ on two spots on the walls and the game got more fun and silly when some girls started cheating and drawing themselves more ‘homes’ all over the site.

22nd March 2011

It’s been a beautiful afternoon/ early evening and between that and its being parents evening at the nearby school we had a busy session. About 20 children and their parents came by and joined in the play in between their appointments with the teachers. Lots of chasing games went on while some girls sat and did some chatting and knitting. The kids here have started playing much more independently recently.

24th March 2011

We had the new playworker trainee girls working with us again on today’s session and the girls from the estate especially enjoyed getting to know them, chatting and playing hopscotch. Some kids made a den under some scaffolding with the parachute material, creating a private space in the middle of the square to sit and chat in. Rainer and I had a long game of hockey with some younger children and an eleven year old boy who took on the role of referee and chief organiser of mini tournaments. 

30th March 2011

It was one of the warmest days of the year so far today and lots of kids came to play out. We had a lot of gold fabric with us today and I made a hammock in one corner of the square. Suddenly lots of kids wanted their own piece of fabric and used them to go and build their own hammocks all round the square, working out how to tie knots and how much fabric this took. I went round helping them strengthen them as lots of kids used sticky tape to attach the fabric or did single knots which quickly came down. Lots of the kids just wanted it done for them but a few of them picked up how to double knots- keen to learn it when it had a purpose for something they wanted to do. We also played lots of chase and race games and a group of boys rode round on their bikes then had a long game of football. Over the last few weeks we’ve noticed that the kids here interact with us a lot at the beginning of the sessions, wanting to use the things we bring and then get into their own play without needing us by the end, which is what we want to happen. We had a little trouble with one boy getting rude, bashing at our tent with a bat and using the chalk to write swear words on the floor. He got a minimal reaction beyond having the bat taken away and later he brought a bat over to me to play bat and ball with him and we had a good game.

2nd April 2011 

A small group of children were already waiting for us when we arrived today, we’ve gathered some new ‘regular’ kids over the last month, a couple of pairs of brothers. The girls used the rope to play limbo and high jump, and brought the boys into the game to compete against them- girls won limbo, boys won high jump! One dad came out with his small son, the boy ran over and got involved in a game on the hammock with the other kids while his Dad stood back at the side watching all the games going on and grinning.

At the next square about 10 kids came out, cycling their bikes around and playing hopscotch. There were 3 dead birds at this square today so we had to be careful to avoid these areas in the play. Some older teenage boys came out to play football and were friendly towards us, saying hi and smiling but keeping to themselves in their game.

Two girls and their mums were playing out at the last square, we hadn’t met them before so we explained about playwork and they joined in a game with us and some of our regular kids on the basket swing.   

5th April 2011

Today’s session at this estate was really busy again which was great considering it was raining and much chillier than the last couple of sessions have been here. Quite a lot of parents came along and one group after another passed by, stopping to play and chat for a while. A girl used the chalk to draw a ‘Hello Kitty’ handbag on the floor which she said was a present for one of the new playworkers, and lots of games of chase and hide and seek took place too.

7th April 2011

Lots of kids came out for the session, at the square I worked on we made a den from the parachute fabric with a couple of 7 year old girls, it billowed in the wind and looked fantastic and the girls decorated the inside with a sari for a carpet. We played with bats and soon lost the balls over into neighbour’s houses. Unable to get them back, we had to get inventive, first we used our small world plastic animals then a strip of fabric knotted up small. One boy had the great idea of keeping this fabric ball together by wrapping lots of sticky tape round it which worked brilliantly and he looked really pleased to be praised for his idea by us and the other kids. A playworker went to ask for a ball back at one house and no one answered the door, then the kids tried again later and were told to get lost! We also got the face paints out though they were mostly used as body paint to decorate hands and arms as people were reluctant to have their faces done today, one boy did a flower design along my forearm and the new playwork trainees showed the kids some henna style designs.

Over at the other square they played with a small tent and had a long game with some new children. One five year old boy tested the new playworkers by calling them insults, he was upset not to get so much of Rainer’s attention due to the greater volume of children playing out today, some weeks when the weather was colder he’s had almost undivided attention for the session.

9th April 2011

Today brought warm, sunny weather and more kids out than we’ve seen since last summer. At the first square we played loose versions of badminton and rounders, hide and seek and skipping. One boy decorated the square with strands of bright coloured tape from tree to tree then later ran through to break it down. Lots of patches of separate games went on and though we had five playworkers it felt we could have done with more to keep up with the requests for different games and loose parts to use! Inga and Habiba chatted to the kids about what kinds of food they would like for the leaving party we’re organising for next month as part of our exit from the project and made a comprehensive list of desirable crisps and sweets as well as receiving instructions about what they didn’t like!

During the session I went to the shop to see if I could get some shuttlecocks, a boy who used to come to the sessions a while ago was passing the shop with his mum but ran in to tap me on the back and say ‘hello alien girl’, referring to a game we played months ago!

The next square was busy too, a long game of hopscotch went on and another group sat in the shade drawing and making Easter cards and chickens, we had about 10 kids come out for the session, mostly girls, we encouraged them to stay out and play after we left but most of them said they would have to go back in.

The last square was already busy when we arrived with lots of new kids we hadn’t met before, out with their families and visiting relatives on the estate. We did more drawing and some origami with one group of younger girls while others played with the badminton racquets and balls or chatted on the swings. There were quite a few young mums out who wanted to chat about our project too.