Playwork as Activism

I’ve been thinking lately about playwork in adverse circumstances – unsurprisingly, really.  Ours is an era of shrinking funding and growing need.  British children are famously among the “unhappiest” in the world, which ought to serve as a call to action to all of us whether we’re playworkers, parents, aunties or uncles or neighbours, simply because we’re human beings. The occupation of Battersea Adventure Playground shows that being a playworker (in the sense of advocacy for children’s rights) sometimes goes far beyond doing playwork (supporting children’s play directly).

For all those conversations about professionalization in the sector, the scale of cuts suggests to me that lots of us will be doing playwork unpaid for awhile – whether it’s through direct action such as this, or hosting local events such as street parties, or simply because people are now applying these skills to the children they meet in “civilian” capacities.  I wonder whether these changes, and how we respond to them, might encourage us to think of playwork as not simply a profession but also as a form of activism.

This line of thinking has been bringing up a lot of questions for me, such as (in the absence of the funding we’d grown used to) how do we keep being playworkers?  Why do we do this work, and how can we stay encouraged?  How can we see the resources we do have more clearly, use them more creatively, and best consider what we’ll do next to continue making real, positive changes in children’s lives of play?

So that’s what I’ll be exploring in the next few posts.  If you have questions or stories of your own to share, the comment section is yours.

You can sign the Battersea Adventure Playground petition here.


4 thoughts on “Playwork as Activism

  1. Glad to hear it!

    Which is why I talk about Strategic Playwork (as presented at PlayEd 2007).

    The Playwork NVQs only cover the zone around the child in the Manchester Circles

    Strategic Playwork also includes the rest – key skills like community development,community work, resource procurement, management, negotiation, campaigning, etcetera, etcetera.

    Shame that this expanded role has been abandoned in favour of stunts, gestures and twitter campaigns by certain agencies.

    So activism, hmmm.

    Activism for children’s play, or for playworkers?

    Activism in the current sense of slick media campaigns run by charities with nice tie-ins to the CSR goals of child and family- related companies?

    Or old skool activism?

    Patient LONG- TERM community organising, skilling up activists, educating parents, etcetera, etcetera ?

    Occupy is an interesting case, which type of activism is it displaying?

    If they embed themselves in the local community (early signs are good, but we’ll see), then perhaps they will graduate from the politics of gesture and spectacle into something more humble and persistent.

    Of course I’ve signed the petition (gesture politics), and kudos for writing your piece and not forgetting the link.

    Happy New Year,and
    Best wishes

    1. Hey there! I’m going to be covering a bit more of this in my next post (currently going through its mysterious transformation from scribbles on the back of an envelope) but my short answer = activism for CHILDREN’S PLAY, which ought to be considered part of playwork anyway. If any action for playwork is not first and foremost action for children’s play, you’re doing it wrong.

  2. Sorry the comment above was supposed to continue:

    But that is begging the question, several questions in fact.

    It is too easy to issue what I’m going to call ‘visionary fatwas’ that float disconnectedly, like sakura blossom on a gentle spring breeze: their fate is to be swept away with a flick of the gardener’s bezom.

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