The Plog (play blog) captured the joy, triumphs and frustrations of the Play Times team in their play work on housing estates from 2008 - 2011. This is a long but beautiful and poignant slideshow. We recommend you dip in, savour a few morsels and come back for more another time.
ocTobEr 2008 17 th doing. Quite right, too – we taking a tortoise were in her neighborhood taking pictures like tourists. for a walk in tower h amlets “Looking for places where kids can play on this estate,” WPL AY TIMES Penny said. eve been busy getting started “Great,” she replied. “Ive got 5 kids, and making and sharing here at Play Times, starting theres nowhere for them. When they leave play memories in with a tour around the area of this gate open theyll go in there and play london’s east end the team (comprised of Penny, for hours. They build dens. but they always rainer, Zoe and Morgan). We started with a come along and pull them down again and look at flash earth (www.flashearth.com) and clear them away and then lock the gate.” although the images were old they did allow The other they, of course, were the estate us to get a feel for the area and play at giving managers, and the place she pointed to was a each other vertigo by swooping in close and fenced-in wooded area, making Penny think quick to specific spots. Then we left oxford of Narnia and how the entrances open and House and jumped on the Number 8, which close unexpectedly. The woman called across runs along roman road, which is either an to some of her friends, who joined in and urban artery or line of severance, depending talked over each other in a chorus. what youre looking for at the time. “These are looking for places for kids to play,” All of us have chosen to live in this area she said. and know it fairly well, but this time we were “There aint nowhere.” exploring, trying to see different things and “Well, theres that concrete. Used to be a to see things differently. playground.” We talked about the Situationist idea “Yes, I used to play there.”PL AY T IME S of taking a tortoise for a walk, about that “Yes, but it aint nothing now. And if youplog process of letting go of the emphasis on park there you get clamped.” arrival and letting travel be a process, not “No play stuff there anymore.” a product. Its about feeling the moment, “Theres nowhere for them to go.”The opening yourself to the sights, sounds, smells conversation followed its own course and of that exact second, in that exact spot. That became a discussion of rats in the area. We said, we knew there wasnt enough time to started to understand the layered problems see everything on the first day, so made a faced by residents of all ages, and some of the rough route through the places Penny and health and safety issues wed have to consider Morgan had previously identified as possible when thinking about play spaces. She said Natural Play sites. that shed want to help, and that she would on arriving on one estate we saw this be able to help us get local residents involved. sign posted above some supposedly public We couldnt image that shed be an easy space saying “No Loitering”. Penny took woman to say no to! a photograph of it and a woman, standing An excellent start. outside her front door, asked us what we were
ocTobEr 2008 20 W th hen PATH did the first mapping of play provision within Tower Hamlets, play baldPL AY TIMES several bald Spaces were identified. These were areas where we had no evidence of any play activities happening. spots Since this first mapping there have been The project has to be sustainable. It has to making and sharing several momentous changes in those areas facilitate the permanent resettling of play cul- play memories in that have transformed these isolated bald ture within the heart of the community, and london’s east end spots into almost total alopecia. The stress of spread playfulness like a healthy virus. Thats the creation of the triumphal olympic site why, rather than focusing the financial ener- and the added pressures of accompanying gies of the provision on a playwork team run- massive new housing developments on tiny ning timetabled play sessions, we have taken patches of land (SLoAPs, Spaces Left over another tack. After Planning, that were the failsafe for the The thrust of this work is to avoid some of playing child) have eradicated the last vestig- the traps that we playworkers can fall into. es of naturally playable space. Namely, the creation of the perception that it This is despite the area being bounded on two is only safe or possible to go our to play when sides by the biggest parks in the borough… there are playworkers present. The myth that and their accompanying lines of severance. only professional playworkers can manage It is as ironic as the demolition of the ve- to create a play environment effectively de- lodrome, which was well used by the people skills the community and the children, who of Tower Hamlets and Hackney, to create a develop the perception that they need to have new bike track for the olympics several years their playing validated by a special group of into the future. After the Games are over it professionals.PL AY T IME S will then be demolished – and it seems ab- Instead, we are using our playwork skillsplog surd that a massive finite games fest is rapidly to gather play memories from community diminishing the groups, using these to re- spaces and oppor- a massive finite games fest member the importance and tunities for infinite free play. diminishing is rapidly the variety ofWe use the memo- enjoyed. playing that they There was an ur- spaces and opportunities for ries to look at the role of the gent need for play infinite free play outdoor environment, of the projects in these childs discovery play, for areas. themselves. Using peoples personal play ex- This need was and continues to be an pertise we remind them of ways that the play especially urgent one for children with dis- drive can be supported by them, themselves. abilities. The recent commissioning process The playwork team will then work with for services for children with disabilities has community groups to think afresh about the concentrated its spending on segregated non- spaces that are available to them and look play based respite. No thought has been given at ways that they can oversee those overseen to finding ways for disabled children to play spaces for children, without adulterating whenever they want to, near their homes, what the children have to do. with their peers. Much of this work is influenced by con- The playtimes project is designed to ad- versations that we have shared with Arthur dress these issues. battram. Much is informed by work in the
ocTobEr 2008 20 th states, re-kindling forgotten play memories pristine green grass, are now showing all the and observing the power of them to spur signs of play deprivation. They are hiding folks into action. Much is a natural extension weapons in the flower beds to ready them- of our application of playwork theory into selves from visitations from rival gangs who everyday practice. have grown up a couple of estates away in anPL AY TIMES We are visiting estates where children are equally play deprived conditions. living in vast numbers. From these initial vis- Interestingly both warring gangs have to making and sharing its and the resultant play audits, we make a pass through a neutral territory, in which play memories in range of suggestions for the creation of com- there is green space and children can play, a london’s east end pensatory environments from the founding content and relatively happy place. We dont have trouble here, those residents say. our We dont have trouble kids are great. here, those residents say. Meanwhile the elders on the other two estates have become distant from an under- our kids are great standing of play as the beating heart of the community, not only a symptom of its health of community play gardens, to community but a catalyst to improvement. The older resi- barbeques, scrounging loose parts from local dents, just like the teenagers, sound resentful people to planting trees and installing fairy and hurting. lights in them so that children can play out This is what happens to people without play. in winter. All our work must embrace all ages. All of the spaces and initiatives we are con- We want the teenagers and the grandparents sidering, are aiming to create shared spaces, and the mums and dads to understand that so that elders, tiny kids, teenagers parents play is an offer for all of them. and children can all feel that this is for them. The blocky unyielding fast moving unma-PL AY T IME S We have been flaneurs moving through the nipulable world that children are growingplog spaces with their playability in mind. up in reminds us of the broken window syn- What we have discovered has been shocking. drome… when ones experience of windows Playgrounds left to go to seed, liminal is only to see them broken, then this becomes community spaces over built or overdevel- the norm and an unbroken window cries out oped until there is no room to mess around for a thrown brick. near your home, no room to stop and chat The architect Le corbusier and his follow- with your neighbours, no green areas to kick a ers, many of whom were commissioned by ball on without the ubiquitous no ball games local authorities and enticed by central gov- signs screaming at you that you are unclean ernment incentive grants, had a stated aim in your to desire play. Anti-climb paint stifles of creating cities without streets. Their desire o more play urges. was to expunge the liminal spaces, those that n one estate, revamped and are ill defined and ripe for play, as a factor made far prettier about fifteen in the life of the people. What a disaster it years ago the whole commu- would be to inflict that way of thinking upon nity is furious with teenagers for the tight knit communities of the east end. hanging out anywhere except the cage that The current hostility towards younger has been provided for them, with no seats and residents, encoded in the tower blocks and no lights. The teenagers, who have lived there unnecessary fences, amounts to play depriva- for the 15 years since the communal land was tion by design. built and sectioned into fenced stretches of We have a lot to do.
ocTobEr 2008 20 th The task seems overwhelming, but surpris- ing anything of our project he started to D ingly, not so depressing. rail against the tree and threatened to cut it espite the places that we have down, then stopped himself and began to re- seen and catalogued and geo- call the memory of the rules of the conker tagged and photographed and games that he had enjoyed flouting.PL AY TIMES will be sharing with you shortly, The mother of five who begged us to find a what fills us with uncontainable excitement way to let her kids and the other local chil- making and sharing is the bubbling enthusiasm that we meet in dren to play in a green treed space, inacces- play memories in every one who we share our project aims sible, yet enticing, locked away for no reason london’s east end with. There is an instant recognition that behind a padlocked fence… this is what they have been looking for. The housing officer who wanted to show Hazy memories of play spring with astound- us the places that make her weep, so we could ing clarity to minds and memories, and the re-kindle their playfulness. light comes on in the eyes of informants as This is a good project. they are transported back to their own first Although local play providers and PATH language of play. The power of the memories have done a fantastic job in this borough, takes hold and they say. we will do whatever there is still a load of work to do… now, we we can to make this happen. This is what we are in an excellent position to do it. need. Do you remember how you used to tell the The caretaker that we walked past as a ripe time with a dandelion clock? conker dropped on his head. Not know- Do children still do that?PL AY T IME Splog
ocTobEr 2008 th remembering when... 24PL AY TIMES The lovely people at the making and sharing Tower Hamlets Local play memories in History Library and london’s east end Archives have supplied us with these wonder- ful images of play in the east end. Are there any streets here that you recognise? Any memories of your own to tie to these scenes? Maybe someone out there even knows the children pictured! It would be tremendous to be hear from the peo- ple these playful kids grew to be.PL AY T IME Splog
NovEMbEr 2008 more gorgeous images th 04PL AY TIMES making and sharing play memories in london’s east end Here are some more images from the local history archive for you to look at while we pull together more notes from recent events.PL AY T IME Splog Sheba Street, 1978 Fournier Street, 1978. Old Gun Wharf, 1930.
NovEMbEr 2008 th 09 APL AY TIMES considerable making and sharing progress report play memories in london’s east end Hello all, consider yourselves cced into an internal email outlining our successes so far – and join in our happiness! From: Penny To: Rainer, Zoe, Morgan and PATH HQ Subject: Project Update Last week we opened up a new play space, Tic Tac Park. We were so happy and proud of ourselves because the project was well and truly launched and we had had a success that we had not expected to experience for a few months yet, that is, a child space with child keyholders endorsed by the RSLPL AY T IME S and parents.plog Wow. However, a week is a long time in playwork. On Tuesday we had our very first meeting with East End Homes and ended up being invited to design the three playspaces on the British Street Estate. We plan to increase this to four play pools and a flowing playable stream. This greening will be completed by June 09. On the previous day the possibility of using the Archibald Road site as the Pathfinder Adventure Playground was mooted. This will be decided for early action in the next financial year. On Thursday, we were told by London Play that we had been successful in our application to develop two sites, in Hewlett Road and Sheffield Square, as natural play spaces. This work will be complete by the end of march.
NovEMbEr 2008 th 09 This morning, I just happened to gate crash a meeting with Green Dreams and a regeneration officer from Tower Hamlets Homes. Sit down my friends.PL AY TIMES making and sharing It would appear that the there is a large sum of section play memories in 106 funding that has to be spent on the Malmesbury Estate, london’s east end mostly before the end of this financial year. Some of this is required for practical considerations like mending broken rubbish bin doors and the REMOVAL OF ALL THE SHIN RAILS (caps quite deliberate.) However the remainder is for the regeneration of the squares. At this point I should tell you that Green Dreams are designing and contracting this work, so do not panic. They are very playful in the same way that we are. They want natural solutions and insist that all spaces should be playable for the whole community. In short I liked and trusted them. Trellis Square – a playable garden… the first thought wasPL AY T IME S to pull down the walls, but I pointed out that a cuddlingplog wall can feel nice and mentioned the practical boundaries as being useful as an inclusive play tool. They understood. And the guy in charge suggested a sand-pit. (This was after I insisted that there would be big trouble if the space was turned into a garden that was not playable because all the spaces identified as playspaces were damn well going to stay playspaces while I was around. I didnt actually say stay away from her you bitch in my charming Sigourney Weaveresque way, but I think thats what they might have heard and I think they liked that! I personally feel that it did set a certain tone….) Sheffield Square. Once again I think I managed to charm them with the explanation of our hippy shit (heretoin HS), working methods, I enchanted them with my assault on the hostile plant! Wowed them with edible fencing and fairy lit trees, sand-pits rolling hills and scramble slopes. I think they even liked the idea that we could use water run off to feed a pump to create water ways through a series of
NovEMbEr 2008 trenches…. Etc etc it is possible we could be looking at a th 09 contribution to the cost of this… not sure. I have to submit plans to a T&R meeting in mid November. Then onto the cage, which I pointed out had only onePL AY TIMES entrance. They are going to create a second one. making and sharing Creswisck Square, green dream suggested it could be a play memories in community garden with playspace (at this point I became london’s east end almost obsessed by the fact that this woman was able to sight-read my mind out loud.) Green Dreams want to create an orchard in one of the squares and a rambling seaty rose garden for the elders garden. Oh and yes, an allotment patch! In Ambrose walk the THH guys wanted to put a toddler playground. For about half a second. After the green Dreams team and me telling him that this was an evil consumerist rip-off and damaging to the whole community and doomed to failure, (the three of us screeching this information altogether must have taken all of three seconds, so this was a speedy process.) he agreed to an all age play space, he started to ask one of the maintenance staff to order some play equipment. When the chorus of harpies sounded off again and he agreed, rather quickly, to let Green Dreams and PATH find alternatives that would be cheaper and offerPL AY T IME S greater play value.plog We also spoke about the need to create some spaces for older kids to play.. taking up the hostile paving and maybe creating some contours for a sort of skating experience, and removing No Ball Games signage in other spots to see if we could get some informal (Pick-up in the states) ball games going on. I have sent the folks many of the documents that we generated to this group and referred them to the Plog. So Obama Week Syndrome…? Change CAN happen. Elatedly yours, pen
NovEMbEr 2008 th An open letter af ter cr ashing 12 an estate planningPL AY TIMES meeting making and sharing From:Penny Wilson play memories in Sent:07 November 2008 16:08 london’s east end To:(People who work for Tower Hamlets and BBCC) Cc:All blog readers Subject:Malmesbury Estate. Dear People, It was so good to share the meeting with you this morning. This gate crashing was a level of cheekiness that I usually dont attain, but I am glad that I did today. Attached is a document that outlines the PlayTimes project that we are running in LAPs 5&6. these LAPs were identified as coming up completely bald on the mapping of play spaces conducted by PATH and LBTH in the play strategy research. They have similarly been identified in similar exercises by CABE space for the Olympic Play Places Mapping. In addition to the the weight of new build in the area will drasticallyPL AY T IME S increase the high levels of play deprivation already experienced currently and historically by children who haveplog grown and are growing in this area. The implications of this are enormous. As Playworkers we are concerned that a single child deprived of a free play experience grows up to be an unintegrated, emotionally and creatively illiterate and harming and harmful person. Imagine a whole estate full of play deprived children. Elements of this phenomena are evident in the ASB that is manifesting itself on these estates where children and young people have had their play curtailed by the prevailing ethos that they are being a pain… they feel that they cannot play anywhere and belong no-where. How can they respect the space when the space has shown them no respect? As well as that we are seeing a high incidence of children growing up utterly divorced from the natural world. The instinctive default setting of a child is to be enthralled and engaged with nature, exploring it in many different ways through every sense that they possess. Where play equipment
NovEMbEr 2008 is currently provided for these urban children they serve th 12 to decrease this innate Biophilia and create a fear and distrust of nature, biophobia. You cant dig in wetpour. You cant find seasonal change in a fixed play structure. As I said when we met, these are a con-trick from unscrupulousPL AY TIMES play equipment manufacturers. making and sharing (It should be said that there is some good stuff out there, play memories in but it needs to be used in the right way. Please see the london’s east end Play England Design Guidance for Playspaces.) It is also important to re-enforce the fact that playspace should not be divided into age groups. A brand new Toddlers Play Ground in a space like (redacted) may arouse the local young people, who grew up on that space with only the wind blown crisp bags in the Play space , to be jealous and resentful and ultimately, whether they are aware of it or not, to sabotage the teensy playspaces. These little play areas also serve to re-enforce the urban myth that playing is simple a gross motor activity enjoyed, purely for mindless fun, by tiny children, pre-schoolers. in fact we are all inclined to remember our playing experiences as happening years earlier than they were actually lived. The play curve stretches well into teenage years. I would make sure that on this estate in particular a veryPL AY T IME S clear offer is made to children who are not toddlers. Theplog natural playspaces will be accessible to all ages, and so they should be. However I like the idea of a legitimate kick about area on the periphery of the estate and the thought that a wheeled play space could be created on the crazy paving on the Caxton Hall corner. I feel a similar offer should be made at other appropriate junctions on the estate to avoid the increasing East West divide that is being reported and unfortunately is being associated with race/ colour/culture difference. These need not be a costly offer, neither should they be all sports courts and attractive only to boys. The village green space outside the Temple could include a small area for this purpose. There were two spaces around (redacted 2) that I wanted to bring to your attention. There is a raised grassy verge running along the wall lining the walkway going towards the ball cage . This could be a very desirable strip of doorstep playspace. But it needs punctum It needs some . there there (to borrow from Gertrude Stein.) This could be
NovEMbEr 2008 something as simple as creating a buttercup lawn on it. The th 12 other space is squeezed between two blocks east of the space that Juliah sees as an orchard. Again, this could be made lovely and playable with wildflower planting. Remember what I was saying about the natural elements providing seasonalPL AY TIMES loose parts (In playwork terms these are bits and pieces of stuff that can be anything) . making and sharing play memories in Two final thoughts. london’s east end One from a play consultant called Tim Gill, he speaks of playable spaces By this he means spaces which hold a . variety of play offers. A small child can play with mates/ sibs without an adult, but on the doorstep, close enough to be seen from a kitchen window.. for slightly older children, there is a little pool of a place nearby that they can playing a little bit more adventurously, but still overlooked, held by the watching eyes. The older children can roam to a space where they can play independently, the ball court or adventure playground or nearby park-like space (very conveniently you have one at each end of this estate. It should be said that all of these playable spaces should be welcoming for play by elders and young parents etc. They should enhance the space for the whole community. The final thought is that all playspaces should be compensat- ory environments. in an urban setting this means findingPL AY T IME S quirky ingredients, no branding, natural elements,plog attractive points of reference, a flexibility of use, curves and difference in texture and design, lighting that is beautiful in fact a great aesthetic all round, planting that can be pilfered for play, touched , smelt or eaten, as in the edible fence plan. Kids should be able to find quiet space shade and shelter, an perhaps most important of all, they should feel that they are in a permissive welcoming space that is part of their home-life experience. It should be noted that the architect of the Malmesbury Estate was, in the eyes of the playworker at least, a genius. Does anyone know who he/she was? I want to award a medal. With best wishes and a huge amount of excitement.
NovEMbEr 2008 clever criticism, 14 th because without how will we improve?PL AY TIMES below is an email from Ian at Glamis, outlining some questions and concerns about the making and sharing project. play memories in london’s east end From: Glamis Adventure Sent: 12 November 2008 15:53 To: Penny Wilson Subject: Play q / rant from Ian Hi Penny, I welcome and support the Play Memories project. It is a terrible inditment of society and the playwork profession that the last place that we can imagine the Playwork Principles working is in public. I agree that reclaiming the streets and other public areas to make playable spaces is a far more valuable task for playwork than the current focus on contained ghettos. Ghettos where the needs of adults especially employed playworkers will always prevail. But whilst play memories can be a very powerful tool forPL AY T IME S promoting play there are other realities:plog • Memory is wonderfully subjective. Ask about a play memory and like a memory of school its the exciting, naughty rather than the dull or conformist that we feel like promoting. A lot of children were not having such a good time, (what are they doing in the Osborn Street window?). A lot of children were excluded A lot of things are not remembered or wont be told. Photos, like memories are chosen. • I hope we dont spend too much time revering a mythical arcadia. Like any missionaries the key is to insure that the message fits the local reality. Tower Hamlets suffers from many things including misty eyed missionaries and a view of the good-old-days. Check the jacket cover of Family and Kinship in East London by Michael Young <http://www.penguin.co.uk/nf/Author/AuthorPage/0,,1000035796,00. html> and Co. for a lovely image of play AND their latter book The “New East End” for a blistering critic of the disruptive effect of interfering do-gooders.
NovEMbEr 2008 • There are still children who cant play out. I like 14 th to think of GAP being like a seed bank keeping an alternative alive in hostile environment. Yes I had a smile of recognition at the tribe of free playing boys / tooled up rebel fighters roaming the estate onPL AY TIMES Bonfire Night. But I also know that some of the reasons that this tiny minority were out and other children were making and sharing indoors are linked to fear of crime, drugs and violence. play memories in These fears are legitimate. And there was more space, london’s east end less cars and a more homogenous community. Childhood has as Sue Parmer describes become a toxic mix of fear and consumerism. • What went wrong with the dream of the social engineers, philanthropists, playworkers? (see “The New East End”). Some of the reasons for this lie in a miss understanding of the realities of power. We are where we are architecturally and socially – there are very real deep roots that effect the current state of play. In our current climate this means making subtle professional judgments. Playworkers need to recognise where power lies if we are to affect change in a real word owned, segregated and controlled by powerful interest groups. • For playworkers in our little ghettos papering over the chasms in provision and trying to compensate for the sad lack of playable spaces, we can see our projectsPL AY T IME S as oasiss in a hostile environment so children canplog experiment with things like digging holes, playing with fire, having arguments and just hanging out. This might sound easy but this is not: • Playworkers are badly paid, terribly managed and often totally confused as to what their role is as they attempt to deal with the effects of a society that places so little value on children. Some playworkers are faced with really aggressive behaviour from children and adults. • Whos needs? Real play opportunities for children need to be bases on a thorough understanding of the Play Principles current fixation with the new and innovative and following funding that is not holistically play based has not helped) But we are were we are lets be carful . not to throw the baby out with the bath water. Am I jaded or naive to worry about the play that would go on with the fairy lights after Tinkerbelle has left? No the Play Memories project is managed by idealists with their
NovEMbEr 2008 feet on the ground and a real understanding of the where we 14 th have come from, where we are now and where we want to be. Childhood memories can be an incredibly motivating force – I loved your description of the eureka moment withPL AY TIMES the planning officer. I hope that Play Memories stirs the imagination and pulls the heart and financial strings making and sharing of people in power so that playgrounds eventually play memories in become irrelevant. london’s east end Lets make the future playful for the children of Sylhet farmers, labours from Eastern Europe and cockneys. Ian Glamis Adventure Playground And here is Pennys response. Feel free to contribute your own thoughts on this, and any questions you might have. Like obama, we will listen, especially when we disagree. From: Penny Wilson Sent: 12 November 2008 18:05 To: Penny Wilson Subject: RE: Play q / rant from Ian Ian. I agree with every word you say. These thoughts were an important part of my thinking when the project was in itsPL AY T IME S very long gestation period.plog A playworker who I really value and respect made similar clear criticisms of the project when I discussed it with her. She said that play memories can be very misty coloured and encourage us to remember not the way we actually were, but the sepia tinted version of a world edited right through selective publication-the telling process. I have shared memories of play with folks from all over the world. Many times, in each group, one becomes accutely aware that there are deep, hurting, private memories which are not for publication. These unspoken thoughts also feed the memory of the sentieny child. The thinking person, whole, because of scale, is easier to treat as without emmotional intelligence-as so often happens with children with disabilities. What I never do is probe this moment. Not appropriate that.
NovEMbEr 2008 What I do do is mention annecdotes about children working 14 th out their problems through their play.. Using it as a self analytical tool, a way to understand the harshness of their world/life experience. Play as a philosphical language of childhood. If there werePL AY TIMES eureka moments before, they appear again at this point. making and sharing Yes, playing does/did do that! Add to this the traumatic play memories in interventions of war and architecture splitting that london’s east end cohesive community…. PenPL AY T IME Splog
DEcEMbEr 2008 th 09PL AY TIMES & making and sharing play memories in Ge nder, Play london’s east end corporate consumerism I have posted on my personal blog about a battle currently underway in Sweden between Swedens Trade Ethical council Against Sexism inPL AY T IME S Advertising (ErK) and Lego that encompasses issues of gender in toyplog manufacturing and marketing. You can read it here http://playeverything.wordpress.com/
DEcEMbEr 2008 liminal th 16 spacesPL AY TIMES making and sharing play memories in london’s east end Penny has a pet theory that is close to both her heart and working practice – that of liminal spaces. Shes often asked to describe, define or just explain what she means by the term, but this is difficult when the term itself is trying to capture the elusive and articulate a sense of the indefinable, the changeable and the fluid. below is a piece shes written to elucidate the term and to suggest application of this idea to one place in particular. Feel free to use it, so long as you give her credit! A liminal space is a space that has no one places where playing is possible. Like a loose fixed purpose. part, these space can be anything/where that Like the sea shore it is sometimes watery the children need them to be for their play- T to swim, paddle or fish in, and sometimes ing. dry to walk on and discover shells and build wo areas of Mile End Park have castles. been identified for an experi- Traditionally liminal spaces are associated ment with this concept. ThesePL AY T IME S with mystery, ritual and a certain sense of are very natural, wooded spaces.plog the poetic. Translated into playwork terms one is on the corner of the park adjoining this phrase captures for me that spaces where the canal tow-path (as near as we have to a children are drawn to play. Let’s return to sea shore), and the other is land that runs the shore. Nicholson cites this as the ideal beside a raised section of railway track – a playspace because of the loose parts to be place usually passed by at great speed and discovered. could it be that the sense of completely overlooked. From conversations fluctuation and transition is also powerful we understand that most people are utterly and appealing to us? I frequently find that unaware of these two spaces. it is the “spaces between” that are most fas- The concept is simple: to use the space as cinating to children. one little corner or a a player, and lure the child into play with school playground, between the kitchen and a series of artifacts which act as play cues. the bike shed, or under the fire escape. The These artifacts will contain references to en- space behind the structures of an Adventure tering and leaving the spaces, or will mirror Playground where the kids build small fan- an overlooked or unexpected aspect of the tasy islands from scraps of moss and twigs spaces, literally in some instances, the urban and stones. child will be offered a mirrored surface to see In an over-crowded urban setting where themselves reflected in nature rather than a space is defined by concrete, by permiss- shop-front or a car wing mirror.. In mark- able and impermissable use and access, both ing these, the artifacts offer new ways for the playworker and child are on the lookout for child to be there, and to feel themselves to be
jANUArY2009 W th 07 eve been talking and thinking a lot about playgrounds in Amsterdam, not least because Penny is freshly returned from a trip over there and very enthusiastic. However, as is usually the case, once we started making connections to and through Amsterdams playspaces they seemed to be everywhere!PL AY TIMES Weve had this book on the projects bookshelf since the beginning: a mster da m and its a remarkably interesting making and sharing play memories in london’s east end playgrounds collection of images, interviews and writing that starts with a generous notion of play that includes playgrounds, public art and urban golf. The authors – a theorist and an architecture firm – then go on to address how places for play enable connections between people, and consider how this understanding might develop new models for design practice. Some of the playgrounds in this book are in Amsterdam and designed by Aldo van Eyck, who in his career starting at Amsterdam Public Works provided the designs for some 700 playgrounds across the city, and the inspiration for many more across the world. I grew up in Southern california, scrambling around the metal tumbling bars that hed designed some 40 years and 10,000 miles away.PL AY T IME S central to his design strategy was an understanding of howplog these often small locations tied together to create a network of play opportunities throughout the city, places where the seeds of community were sewn, where the city was not to be viewed or consumed but experienced. Archis No. 3,2002 (where this article comes from) also offers a psychogeographic cycle tour of Amsterdam playgrounds by Aldo van Eyck, encompassing the sites of about 40 playgrounds within the citys ring road. For those seeking a more armchair- based exploration, Sara Winter has a lovely set of images up on Flickr, and more on her blog.
jANUArY2009 th 20 We went for another walkabout last week, and talked to a couple of teenagers (Asian-british males) who had been born and raised on the estate about local play opportunities. They were perched against a railing in between a torn-upPL AY TIMES playground and a parking lot. Their responses are as follow to my questions. making and sharing an play memories in What happened to over there now and its dirty as london’s east end the playground over hell, man.” there? “The council came and And for the teenagers? tore all that (equipment) up. About five, maybe ten years ago? They were interview “Theres a youth club. Its supposed to be open 6-9, but you know. The workers are all old, its with going to build flat there, so funny. Theyre all smoking all tear up those buildings the time, before they arrive, you behind as well. Didnt know? Theyre all getting sacked take those though. but now, because of that but because two there used to be loads of theyre old so none of them went kids playing there. Every to school, no degrees or nothing. summer thered be bare Some of them play mad pool kids, just running and though!” teenagers that. They had parties there and everything, Maybe it was the run-up toPL AY T IME S man.” yesterdays blue Monday, but allplog of this got me to thinking. We Where do kids play now? wandered around that torn-up playspace, “In the stairwells. The hallways in those now yet another dog toilet, and read the scars buildings there, and there. Its a bad place on the tarmac for original design in the way though, the walls are covered in piss. Even we do every time. on this project we have the police dont like coming in. His little been to place after place, once designated brother nearly died, man. He climbs stuff, playgrounds in the centre of housing estates, and so he was climbing up that scaffolding but now vacant lots. We see places where there and fell off.” equipment has been torn up, where its cracked or shredded from people training Where else might kids go? their dogs to attack the seats, and we see “Theres some playgrounds that way, but its peeling safety surface thats become a Petri across the road. besides, thats the E3/E14 dish for varieties of mould. That mould is the boundary right? So even if the kids could go only growing thing that seems at home there. over there, they wouldnt. Thats why theyre indoors all the time.” Each time we see the sign of the thing – the thing being play, a place for children outdoors Who uses that former playspace? – but we do not see the thing itself. We see “Its for dogs now. They just come in, drop the shape of its absence, conjure up the ghosts the dogs in and shut the gates. They run all of games, laughter, the testing of growing
jANUArY2009 th 20 selves that must have happened there. on the same time, it feels culturally deliberate. that last grey wandering, the repetitive sense It feels like the erasure of children from the of loss and emptiness reminded me of trips public realm, and I think it is. Why and how to old European cities and all those signs were childrens places, childrens tangible that say “This used to be the ghetto”. This rights as citizens, eradicated from the centrePL AY TIMES sounds like an extreme comparison (perhaps of public housing? From the centre of public especially when made by a jew), but when I life? And why would the people looking out making and sharing go to all these different places and find that their window prefer a socially sterile and play memories in people in power have attempted to remove abandoned-looking dog toilet to a thriving london’s east end play from the public sphere, all at roughly play space?PL AY T IME Splog
jANUArY2009 th Progress frustrated by 28 change?PL AY TIMES Below is pennys sheffield square, following a numBer of update on team Brainstorming sessions, of making lovely drawings and costing making and sharing play memories in elements and warming ourselves through this cold January on the toasty london’s east end possiBilities of this space . So… I turn up at Sheffield Square in a warm The site has been turned into a building site jacket, brand new sticks of chalk in the pock- office with port-a-cabins and port-a-loos and et, christmas tape measure on its maiden blokes in hard hats and lots of scaffand tea voyage. I am putting the last strokes to the and mud and no room for children at all. No designs we have whipped up to make a mag- room for twinkling fairy lights in the trees ic playspace with a tiny budget of £2K, on or wildflower seed planting, no village pump this bleak stretch of tarmac the details of the feeding the stream designed to meander project scamper around in my head as I walk around the dip in the tarmac near the surface towards the space. drain, no marine ply throne shapes to trans- We are planning to hold play sessions form the seatless benches of forty years ago… while weave willow into the fences We are This work is a constant series of setbacks meeting with residents to and re-inventions, of gather stories about their extreme hope and pro- play memories and offer found disappointment;PL AY T IME S them training to support of visionary, dynamicplog their childrens play. We and dedicated employees have useful bits and pieces of the council and reg- of reclaimed wood,stone and istered Social landlords fence squirreled away in a and voluntary sector peo- scrap yard. We have plans to ple and of complete jobs- plant a living climbing tree. worth duffers who are I am working out how to without passion or pride do some of the construction in their work, who hin- work that is needed myself der, halt and make stale and still fit in office and de- the work of others. velopment work… So, through enept plan- Anyway this is the last of my preparatory ning and efficient bungling I am forced to visits. Next time I have planned to glue tis- break the promise to turn Sheffield Square sue paper letters to the tarmac (PLAY!), dis- into a playground by the end of March. The tribute the flyers, , three on each photocopied children have less room and freedom to play sheet. and chalk arrows and information ad- than they did before I made that promise. vertising the session on the walkways all over The funding is lost. The willows missing the estate. The school will know and estates their season. The goodwill and trust betrayed. officers have been informed. “Them do-gooders, they come in here from the Then I round the corner and find this: outside, making their promises and then they
jANUArY2009 th 28 go away and you never hear or see em again… In what other profession would equip me people here have learned to expect to be let to expect the unexpected, prepare me for the down. Its going to do folks no favours if I constant devaluation of the work that I do mope about this. So I put on my High reso- and the experience that I have and still let me lution (Hi res) playwork warm jacket, pick love my work so much that I am enthusiasticPL AY TIMES myself up, dust myself off and plan all over and optimistic again by the end of a day like again. this one. making and sharing back to the team with an optimistic plan. I think it helped that this was the day that play memories in back to the funder with a justification for President obama was inaugurated. If he can london’s east end non-delivery of sessions that does not look become president of the United States of like a fumbling excuse. America (I hear Hendrix spitting out the star I am so glad that I am a Playworker... No strangled, (sic) banner), then we can make seriously. Tower Hamlets playful, (I hear Aretha.)PL AY T IME Splog
FEbrUArY2009 A th 04 couple of weeks ago we went empty room at the other end, I grew more and walking through our patch, more angry. The question of whether or not coming across a little playground, playspaces should be fenced is an old one. We marked out with fixed equipment tend to fall on the side of gates and fences for a and brightly coloured safety surface. It was number of reasons – to increase inclusivity byPL AY TIMES fenced in, central to the estate and reached making provision for children with disabilities by sets of staggered who can be considered look, but making and sharing pathways. ‘flight risks’, to separate play memories in It wasn’t terrible. the space for those london’s east end Lots of fixed exercizing their pets equipment which and to state clearly that dont play we’re not particularly this place is different disposed towards, from others, that this and someone had place is for children’s been training their play. dog on the rubber seats and wooden benches, Implied in this argument, however, are two but there are lush plantings around the edge points: and some thought had been given to the • That specified provision such as playgrounds demarcation of spaces. The housing estate are not to be viewed as the ‘only’ places where made for a pleasing courtyard effect and most play is appropriate, but instead located in a importantly it was clearly a part of the public considered and playable public realm. realm set aside for play. The opening hours • That these gates are opened so that children were clearly signposted and we were there can come in! when it was supposed to be unlocked. only on a far happier note, however, the amazing one problem. weather we’ve been having has suppliedPL AY T IME S It wasn’t. the whole city with high value natural playplog The anti-climb paint and padlocked gate material – snow! With traffic at a standstill turned the playspace into a fortress – and in and schools and offices closed, people emptied prime midweek afterschool hours too. The out into the streets and the parks to build, sign also had a number to ring in case of fight, scuffle and explore. Adults and children emergency, so I rang it. The call was not free, played out together, as the ‘adverse weather and once I’d waited through interminable conditions’ for daily routines proved to be the automated messages, it wasn’t answered either. perfect weather conditions for play. As the phone rang and rang in the presumably
FEbrUArY2009 th 13 s at u r d ay bbQPL AY TIMES making and sharing play memories in london’s east end on Saturday we set up camp from 12 – 3 in the post-playground tarmac space that forms a courtyard for an estate in our area.PL AY T IME Splog We wanted to play through information There will be another post that looks more on some of the changes that we’ve proposed specifically at the ‘consultation’ aspect of this for this space, talk with them about their day, but I wanted one just to celebrate the needs and desires for their doorstep play fun that was had – because play is the point, opportunities and share some of our ideas. after all. but this was a play session, not consultation, It was the brightest of winter bar-be-ques, and like every good play session it developed and a pleasure and privilege to meet the into something richer, more vibrant and wonderful children who live there. There are fantastic than we could have imagined. many more pictures hosted on our Flickr page
FEbrUArY2009 th 15 Tenants & residents Association response to saturdayPL AY TIMES The local Tenants and residents Association sent us a lovely email following Saturday’s bbQ, and some quotes follow here: making and sharing play memories in I am glad to hear the event went well. I had no doubt london’s east end you would be able to attract children as most of the play spaces on the estate are similar to that play space. The play spaces are in a square shape enclosed around the residents’ buildings (some having their front gardens opposite the play space while others with their back garden opposite the play space) I expect . most of these children are those that live in the buildings surrounded by the play space. The play spaces are underutilised, because there isn’t any play equipment in any of the play areas on the estate. This is why it is essential that LBTH rebuilds these spaces with proper play equipment for the children. In terms of understanding the needs of the estate and engaging the estate, we (the Residents Assocation) have also carried out questionnaires in the past to ask whatPL AY T IME S people want on the estate. In relation to this project,plog we have had a large number of requests for play spaces to be properly equipped with play equipment from people (mainly parents with youngchildren) all over the Estate. I t’s wonderful to see that the Tenants and their parents chatting to one another all residents Association understand the the while. Public space would accomodate need for vibrant play spaces in the estate, everyone, and in so doing help create a sense and understandable that the residents of cultural cohesion, of social belonging, and are vocal about the need for them considering of possibility. how many children are currently living there. That’s why we’re hoping not just to run a Play equipment helps to advertise that a space few exciting play sessions for the children, is set aside for children, that their needs have but to demonstrate how much can be done been provided for by those in power. with how little, to engage the local residents The thing is, play is about more than in a dialogue about play and the public equipment and children’s needs ought to be realm, and to change people’s perceptions considered in all the decisions of design in of the open spaces between their houses into the public realm. In an ideal world children something more colourful, more fluid, more would be playing out all over the place, playful for everyone.
FEbrUArY2009 th 17 We’ve started running twice-weekly sessions on an- other local site, a high flat windy spot surrounded by es- tate houses. There’s a massivePL AY TIMES grassy slope and a flat tarmac section with the scars left Tuesday making and sharing from long-gone play equip- play memories in ment. one boy we spoke london’s east end to told it was called “The Dump” by local children, but some others said that they’d had a difficult time finding it, after seeing the Session over the tree and construct- play session advertisement ing it. He gave himself diffi- distributed by the housing culties and challenges which association. was really interesting to see. Here are some of rainer’s He finally made a flying fox notes from the session: through getting the hoop We had 6 children, not bad down from the tree with the for beginning. It was cold, a rope and then hanging the o bit of an icy wind. hoop as a swing. Sliding the ne mum came hoop along the rope didn’t with her girl quite work of course but and baby. She he hung on the rope upsidePL AY T IME S was enthusias- down and he looked like anplog tic about the idea of offering acrobat. I think he had lots of play sessions. She said there fun and his friend was more is nothing around and she the hair designer type con- is very frustrated. Another stantly talking on his phone mum brought her 2 sons and with his other mates and daughter. The older daughter bossing a bit around. Sorry was waiting for us for weeks no offence, he was hilarious. and was so happy that we fi- The rope is such a good nally made it. thing for older children but Two older boys came along as well the younger once be- and of course they weren’t up came interested and played for making things out of tis- with it. sue paper. but the rope was I loved the snow fight with interesting and they basically the rest of the snow! played for an hour with that. Especially one of them was Location - Ollerton Green Children - Girls: 2, Boys: 0 immersed in how to get it Total = 2
FEbrUArY2009 th 20PL AY TIMES Thursday Session making and sharing play memories in london’s east end on Thursdays we’ve been After creative experimen- returning to the high windy tation with the rope that had spot from Tuesday, and be- happened within our first low are some of Zoe’s notes session there, the two boys from a session: now knew how exactly they Thursday was a rainy (and could create their swing. As almost snowy) day. We were they repeated this model, at the site on time. We pre- the swing was ready in a few pared the site by ‘decorat- minutes. After this, it was ing’ it as we aimed to leave just pure fun. our marks on the landscape The boys, and then us (the (such as paper flowers on the playworkers), we all experi- bushes-trees) for people to enced the swing-event. We find. We emptied our bags in were loudly laughing and which we had tissue papers, this attracted other children’s scissors, rope and a variety of curiosity. both children and A other material. their parents were comingPL AY T IME S fter 20 minutes out in their balconies ob-plog we saw the two serving what we were doing. teenager boys As a result, three younger (they are cous- children came out to play ins) that had played in our with the swing. children first session at this spot. They were clearly very excited and were then very excited experi- wanted to make sure when menting with making a rope- we are going back. swing. They passed us and re-assured us that they are Location - Ollerton Green Children - Girl: 5, Boys: 5 going to bring a tire for the Total = 10 rope-swing. After a while, we saw them wheeling the tire, anticipating attaching it to the rope.
MArcH2009 02 nd M a k i n gPL AY TIMES connec- making and sharing play memories in london’s east end tions I took some notes during Thursday’s session, with the intention of creating a sort of snapshot of play. Here it is: Some children, of course, are bolder in this They are arriving now, eager and out of than others, more boisterous. A couple of breath, in twos and threes and fours. They weeks ago a girl of about 8 stood next to me are climbing up brick walls to reach the and watched the others play a mad racing green and sighing, throwing their shoulders game of pretending to drown in the tarmac in frustration if they can’t make the climb square, and of being eaten by sharks. She and are forced to walk around. once there seemed a little old for this game, a little too the older boys rig up a rope swing, stuffing the self-conscious to go ahead and play it anyway. wet tire with bright wads of tissue paper, while Furthermore, the others all had siblings there two girls spread out the tarpaulin and begin and she had come alone. She’d told me before making paper flowers. one small boy, seen that on the days we weren’t there she tendedPL AY T IME S for once without his older sister, flits between to read novels on the sofa. She seemed moreplog them and the swing. Smaller boys arrive, aged comfortable at times with playworkers than 5 or 6, and congregate from different corners with peers, and was almost always the last around a small red ball. child to leave. once rainer and I had run The amazing thing for me is how few of with her, carrying the tarp between us as an them knew one another before we started enormous billowing flag, and she turned to coming. me then and mentioned this, saying “maybe We bring very little with us but by being the other children would want to play that there we change the dynamic of the place. with us?” on more than one occasion we have arrived Apart from the ideas we bring, the small to see little faces pressed up against kitchen pieces of equipment and the encouragement windows, the children waiting for us to arrive we offer, we are a handy excuse. For children before they are allowed out. The children we whose parents don’t normally let them have met (and their friends whom we haven’t) play out, and for children seeking to make are kept indoors for a variety of reasons – extra introductions. We picked up the tarp and studies, fear of strangers, dogs or traffic, even ran with it, the loud cracks of it snapping in I something as common as the rain. the wind drawing the other children over to ’ve watched the children make subtle investigate. S. had made her introductions, negotiations towards friendship, seen shown them that she had ideas for play and them unite in the common purpose of engaged with them on her own terms. by the making a rope swing or playing football. time we left they were all playing hide and
MArcH2009 nd 02 seek together, big children looking after small their lives more out of doors than they do across family lines. today, chatting over fences and all keeping It was a strong indication to us of how an eye on children collectively, rather than much children’s social links have dissolved individually. just as a person with a number over the years. If children don’t play out they of friends is more likely to go out, more likelyPL AY TIMES don’t know one another – even if they were to make new social connections through old all born on a small estate, lived there all their ones, so the reverse is true. Isolation breeds making and sharing lives and attend local schools. If a child has isolation, in children and adults. Parents play memories in few friends nearby, they are even less likely who tell children not to talk to strangers london’s east end to be allowed out to play, and less likely to find themselves stuck, now that everyone is a want to. The thing is, their parents are in the stranger. That is the cycle we mean to change, same position. one boy said that his mother, through working with children and adults to who has lived on the estate for years, “doesn’t reinvigorate doorstep play, and to help adults know anyone really.” recollect their experiences and perhaps form Part of the reason why children used to new connections. be allowed out to play is because adults livedPL AY T IME Splog
MArcH2009 th 26 We’ve been thinking lately about small are glass universes that joins others in games. worlds in play. In our estates-based work, In so doing they powerfully transform the small worlds play offer different ways to think public realm. Marbles turn pavement cracks about play and space than our usual concerns into obstacles, holes into goals, other children of public and private places, of the permeabil- into play partners,and the outside world intoPL AY TIMES ity of the site and play frame, of observation a place for children’s play. and alteration. on a recent visit to one site, small making and sharing we brought bags of miniature play memories in trains, figurines, cars and ani- london’s east end mals and while the drawing ma- Worlds terials, balloons and so on that we also brought proved popular enough, it was these little items that the children engaged with particularly. by the end they had nearly all disappeared into hot S hands and pockets. mall objects are potent. There is something compelling in the abrupt changes of scale that make a train fit in the palm of your hand, that render the player both enormous as a deity and small enough to peer into the windows of tiny houses. There is something intimate about them, something absorbing in theirPL AY T IME S detail. The possibilities of small worlds areplog enormous within estates-based work, because they offer portable universes of play that can be hidden in a pocket. In playing with that scale, that intimacy, small worlds are located within the individual mind and can thus be everywhere, anywhere, at any time. They are places that are owned and managed by the child but can be shared, their rules expressed, discussed and evolved through argument. They are treasures, and treasured. The classic example is the humble and nostalgic marble. Exquisitely beautiful, these