Before leaving the city, I did some training for the marvelous NYCoalition for Play to prepare their volunteers for the Figment Festival. I couldn’t make the day itself, but heard that it was a resounding success. The attendees were so enthusiastic and open at the training, all with a clear idea of what we talk about when we talk about play. One of the attendees was Susan Solomon, author of American Playgrounds: Revitalizing Community Space, and I’m hoping to talk to her further once I’m back in the city at the end of the month. All in all it was a thrilling afternoon, sitting in Strawberry Fields and developing a crack team of NYC-based playworkers, primed to seize any opportunity they find for play.
There was also an article in The New Yorker about the new Imagination Playground, where I’ll be heading to do some more training at the end of the month. I’ll be following on from the illustrious Penny Wilson, who is quoted in the article – she’s an amazing playworker, artist, writer and advocate for play who works widely with PATH (Play Association Tower Hamlets) and the Alliance for Childhood. She’s more extensively quoted in an article here, and photographed on a local Adventure Playground.
It’s been wonderful to be so immersed in the fledgling US Playwork field – and slightly bizarre to be so far from home now that everything back there is changing. I flew out on the day of the election and have been getting scraps of news about changes ever since. It’s strange only getting news online again, without the benefit of colleagues and friends telling me what it looks like on the ground.
Nick Clegg’s speech at Barnardos last month had children’s play as a core focus, as he said:
…Every parent understands the importance of a secure environment for their children. Spaces where they can play, where they can feel completely free, where they can safely push at the boundaries, learning and experimenting. Places where different generations can meet, binding the community together… If you ask adults if they used to play near their homes as children, 71% will tell you they did. Every single day. That compares to just 21% of children now. It’s not right, and it has to change. But, despite how obvious that is, I do appreciate that there’s no easy answer.
He goes on to talk about the need for low-cost, local community-based solutions – essentially, a return to ‘old-school’ outside play opportunities. It’s worth remembering that long before Adventure Playgrounds had government funding they were created and built by local volunteers, by the adults and children who lived nearby. Far more important than these places (remarkable as they can be) are all of the incidental playspaces which children are allowed to make their own. For those freedoms to become commonplace, we need to be having conversations about the importance of play not just with our political representatives, but also with our friends and relatives, our neighbours and everyone else we share our social responsibilities with.
What these changes may mean for play and playwork are yet to be determined, and I have very little idea what context I’ll be walking into when I get back to the UK. It does seem like a good time to be seeing what’s going on here though – in a country which hasn’t provided any federal funding for play and where people have had to organize for themselves for a long-time.
Also, a reminder that Play Day is August 4th, for those in the UK! For those outside, I’m sure you’ll take any excuse to go outside and have a good time.