I’ve had some very strange feelings on the closing of the Shop. It’s the first project that I’ve ever conceived of, got funded, staffed and run myself (though, of course, with the tremendous help of Team Pop-Ups and Suzanna in particular). I feel especially fond of it because of that, and because I believe so strongly we playworkers need to be doing meaningful community-based work.
It was a pilot so I knew the closure was coming. It ran longer than expected, but there has to be some limit built into the phrase “pop-up” – is something still popping after six months?
The bottom line is that when something’s good I hate to see it go. This has been many things – challenging, exhausting, enlightening, educational, inspirational – that are more important than good. But it’s been good as well, a tangible and palpable sort of ‘good’. I’ve learned so much to take with me.
We were right to open it to everybody. By staffing a space with playworkers and then opening the doors, we created a public living room where everyone was welcome on their own terms. Our nearly 1,500 visitors represented a broad mix of socio-economics and ethnicities, and very high proportions of those classed as “hard to reach” – young mums, fathers, recently arrived refugees, teenagers who are already running into trouble with the law. We had grandparents who are primary carers of children, we had children who are primary caregivers of their parents. More than that, on the sofa and over coffee, we had real conversations in which people told us about their lives.
Of the original volunteers, two were recruited from a developmental play course and are staying in the field in one capacity or another. The third was looking to return to playwork and progress, so took the opportunity here to work as acting senior. Among the new round of volunteers, we’ve had one looking for experience to get back into playwork, and another dipping her toe into a field of practice that she has a natural affinity for. We even poached one volunteer who only planned to do a research placement for her education course, but now wants to be a playworker instead. Considering the state of employment in the sector right now this may be considered irresponsible, but it proves that people need this in their lives – personal and professional. Even if all of these people move into other arenas, they’ll still understand and value what they’ve seen here.
We’re still hearing what this pilot has meant to people. I’ve a drawer full of letters of support and hardcopies of the petition, and a Facebook wall with father-posted videos of dustbin dodgems. Today, when Suzanna and Katie and I were painting, another parent came by for a visit and last look. Another mum has started a jewelry shop online to help out with fundraising for future locations.
You’ll never know the ripples that happen, the consequences of what you do. It seems to always be a case of classic playwork approach – try something, think about it and discuss with people you trust, try it again better. That’s reflective practice, right?
So, even though I’m sad that this thing that was never meant to last forever hasn’t, I’m consoled by the fact that it’s not the end. I hear that there’s an expression in French that means something like “recoiling to jump farther” and that’s how this feels.
Now is the time for packing and reports, for speaking at Conferences (Eastbourne and Spirit of Adventure Play) on how we did and what we learned. Now is the time for looking at all these notes and photographs and establishing our narrative for further fundraising. Then we can take all of this and leap, once again, back into the great unknown.