Michael Morpurgo: ‘The greatest danger you can put children in is making them feel they are not worthwhile’20 May
In this second of a two-part blog about the prospects for play policy under the next government, Adrian Voce argues that playwork should be at the heart of the debate, and that the best hope for progress is a Labour victory tomorrow.
With none of the parties featuring children’s play in their manifestos for tomorrow’s General Election – or, indeed, elsewhere in their campaigns in any positive sense – advocates for play policy face a huge challenge, whoever wins (or loses least badly) tomorrow’s vote.
The Children’s Play Policy Forum (CPPF), which commissioned a research review from Tim Gill after meeting with the Cabinet Office last year, appears to believe it has a dialogue with the incumbent government, upon which to build. Its proposals have the ring of a public response to a private discussion: some of them couched in terms that seem part of somebody else’s agenda. ‘Encouraging appropriate play in public space, while reducing neighbourhood conflict and the resulting pressure on police time’ or ‘support for staffed play provision to test social prescription health and well-being initiatives’ are certainly not ideas that seem to owe much to the Playwork Principles or Best Play (NPFA et al, 2000).
Using the language of existing priorities to persuade a government to adopt your own is a sometimes necessary ploy in the policy game, but one has to wonder, in the current climate, whether the possible rewards are worth the compromise. Any version of a new Conservative-led government – to meet its deficit reduction targets, not to mention its ideological mission – will need to preside over such a radical diminution of the public realm, such a break up of what is left of the universal networks and services to meet the common good, that the concept of public play provision, engendered and supported by government (national or local) with any kind of consistency or reach to the children who need it most, will recede into the past.
‘children’s play is unlikely to get any meaningful help from five more years of a Tory government, whoever might join them in forming it’
With no obvious contribution to make (Tim’s best efforts notwithstanding) to an economic model that knows the cost of everything and the value of nothing that cannot show a monetary return, children’s play is unlikely to get any meaningful help from five more years of a Tory government, whoever might join them in forming it. Whatever crumbs the Cabinet Office may again offer in its brazen attempts to bribe the voluntary sector into colluding in the pretence that the Big Society is anything other than a pretext for savage cuts to public services and welfare, let us not be fooled that any of its programmes will amount to an impactful or strategic policy for play.
If, however, Labour’s share of the vote holds up – and it holds its nerve in the whirlwind of speculation, negotiation and media scaremongering that is likely to erupt on 8 May – sufficiently to form a government that lasts longer than a few months, we will again have an administration that is, at least in principle, interested in how to support children’s play: and one with a track record on play policy (early demise of the Play Strategy notwithstanding), that has been admired around the world. In that case, we will need to remind the two Eds and their colleagues about their rudely interrupted mission to engender and embed a universal network of playwork services and playable neighbourhoods as a vital component of the ‘public commons’ (Lammy, 2007).
We will need to put play back on the agenda of a party that, when it was last in power, came to realise that a society truly taking responsibility for the maxim that ‘every child matters’ and wanting to dedicate itself to improving ‘universal outcomes’ for children, needed to see them as important stakeholders not just in their formal education but in the whole public realm. We will also need to be clear that the key challenges – how to engender community environments that children want to play in, and parents feel confident to let them – were never going to be effectively addressed by a capital build programme for new play areas whose scale was out of proportion to other measures in the strategy.
‘we should not acquiesce in the insidious assumption that, in hard times, society cannot afford to indulge its children in the luxury of free play’
This is important, not because play provision is not a good investment in the fabric of the built and planned environment – we should not acquiesce in the insidious assumption that, in hard times, society cannot afford to indulge its children in the luxury of free play – but because the more important parts of the policy in 2008-10 were not about new kit, but about embedding play as a priority within local planning and commissioning processes.
Revenue, not capital, will be vital to keeping the country’s remaining adventure playgrounds open and to extending the community play development seen in places as different as Bristol and Tower Hamlets, where community activism and outreach playwork has taken on the challenge of animating public space to bring the children of diverse communities out to play in the streets and estates where they live.
A less hands-off planning system is needed to ensure more liveable, play-friendly designs of public space within the plans for new, affordable housing that is a key Labour pledge. We will need to remind new ministers that it was a Labour policy in London that showed how this can be done.
These are effective, ‘up-stream’ solutions to a range of social and public health priorities, as well as essential to the progression of a key policy outcome in its own right: that public space and public services support children to enjoy their childhoods. It is these objectives – not requiring major capital investment, but an intelligent, crosscutting and strategic plan – that we should be advocating for after the dust of the election has settled.
We should also be making the case for a well resourced, specialist support and development body to drive the necessary changes at a national level, and to provide support to the besieged community networks of play associations and small local charities that are, in many areas, the only play champions left.
It will be a long haul. Whoever leads the new government, we are in a very different world from the one of July 2007. It was then that Ed Balls, in the newly created post of Children’s Secretary, proclaimed, “I want to live in the kind of society that puts asbos behind us”, where children are free to play ‘conkers and snowballs and climb trees’, as part of a healthy childhood. By the time his Children’s Plan was launched in December the same year – a plan to transform the public realm so that space for children to play was at the heart of a vision ‘to make England the best place in the world to grow up’ (DCSF, 2007) – the financial crisis was well under way. The Play Strategy he then announced would be as short-lived as the rainbow logo that symbolised this new, broader vision for child policy.
Lady Allen of Hurtwood (1968a) once exhorted that ‘each local authority should make a survey of the play areas in the parks, estates, schools and playing fields within its boundaries’ and ‘direct the various departments of housing, education, parks and health to co-operate’ with teams comprising ‘town-planner, architect, engineer and landscape architect’. A celebrated landscape architect herself, Lady Allen was also one of the original playworkers, long before the term was adopted. She did more than anyone in the UK to define, create and promote adventure playgrounds as one response to children’s need for space to play in a world that was increasingly making it scarce for many of them. What is sometimes forgotten is that her wider vision was to ‘create a total environment that gives pleasure to those who live there’ (Hurtwood, 1968b). She believed planners must prioritise play space in new developments, ring-fencing budgets for it ‘so that children and their parents can feel they belong to a community that is intimate, where they can meet and chat with their neighbours’.
‘The suggestion that playwork has a mandate only to engage in policy affecting staffed services, while others “speak for play” in the broader sense, is a dangerous one’
Playwork, which can trace its origins directly back to the work of Lady Allen, has had a hard time of it under austerity, but it will be important in the campaigns to come that it is not marginalised. The suggestion that playwork has a mandate only to engage in policy affecting staffed services and the skills of their workforce, while others ‘speak for play’ in the broader sense, is a dangerous one that risks not only further decline in the profession itself, but the annexation of play policy by those outside this tradition. It was striking that none of the CPPF’s ‘4 Asks’ mentioned playwork.
It is part of the playwork principles that ‘playworkers act as advocates for play when engaging with adult led agendas’ and that this role ‘should inform the development of play policy, strategy, training and education’. The London Adventure Playground Association, (chaired in the 60s by Lady Allen herself); LAPA’s successor, PLAYLINK; Fair Play for Children; London Play; Play Wales; the Children’s Play Council; and many local play associations, have each embodied this principle by drawing on their playwork experience, with its unique insights into how to best support children’s play, to advocate for play beyond the playground. Support for playwork development, as an important part of the children’s workforce, must be part of any new play policy; but equally important will be that other areas of the policy are informed by the playwork approach. Each of these objectives require that playwork, more than ever, needs its own national body.
It was 35-40 years before Lady Allen’s clear-sighted vision for crosscutting planning, not just for play space but playable public space, was adopted, first by the Mayor of London (2005) and then the national government (DCSF, 2009). It was more than five years after CPC called for a national play strategy (Cole-Hamilton and Gill, 2002), that Ed Balls made his announcement in the House of Commons. We are used to the long haul.
‘both the children’s rights’ and the improved outcomes’ arguments for serious play policy, are actually stronger than they were seven years ago’.
Yet, since the Play Strategy was abandoned, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (2013) has issued a comprehensive framework for government action on play, General Comment 17, and, as Tim Gill’s Play Return suggests, even if play provision is primarily viewed in policy terms as instrumental to other aims, it is a good investment. Set against the hugely less conducive economic climate, both the children’s rights’ and the improved outcomes’ arguments for serious play policy, are actually stronger than they were seven years ago.
If this seems like pie-in-the-sky, it is worth noting that some of the most ambitious calls for play policy from the next government have come not from any of the different play sector groupings, but from Parliamentarians. The All Party Parliamentary Group on a Fit and Health Childhood, chaired by Baroness Floella Benjamin, has called for a new national play strategy and for the statutory play sufficiency duty now in place in Wales to be extended to England. The seriousness of the APPG and its aims are evident in its recent establishment of a working group on play to further research and develop these proposals. A report, endorsed, as the name suggests, by MPs of all parties (a list now potentially considerably longer after our letter), is expected in the summer.
This activity should tell us that, while many precious spaces and services have gone, the issue of provision for children’s play has not itself disappeared from political debates about what kind of society we want, and what role government should play in it. Losing the resources that enabled us to make the argument in quite the way that we did in 2000-2007 – consulting widely, building that valuable consensus and using the media to amplify our message – may have made it harder to do so again, but perhaps it is within Parliament itself that we must now build the alliance to hold the new government to account for a proper policy and strategy for play. If Labour manage to pull it off tomorrow, do not be surprised if this time it takes considerably fewer than 40 years, or even five, to get a response. If they do not, I fear the policy game, for now, will be up.
Correction, 7 May 2015
The originally published blog incorrectly stated that seven years elapsed between the Children’s Play Council’s call for a national play strategy and the Labour government’s announcement that a Play Strategy would be part of its new Children’s Plan. The period in question was, of course, five years (2002-7). It just seemed longer!
Cole-Hamilton, I. and Gill, T. (2002), Making the Case for Play, London: Children’s Play Council.
DCSF (2007), The Children’s Plan – Building brighter futures, London: The Stationery Office.
DCSF (2010), Embedding the Play Strategy, London: The Stationery Office.
Hurtwood, Lady Allen of, (1968), Planning for Play, London: Thames and Hudson.
Lammy, D., Minister for Culture (2007) ‘Making space for children – the big challenge for our public realm’, Thinkpiece, London: Compass
Mayor of London (2005), Guide to Preparing Play Strategies; planning inclusive play space and opportunities for all London’s children and young people. London: Greater London Authority.
National Playing Fields Association, Children’s Play Council and PLAYLINK (2000), Best Play: What Play Provision Should Do For Children, London: NPFA.
The All Party Parliamentary Group on a Fit and Healthy Childhood, which, last November, called for a new national play strategy for England, underpinned by legislation, has convened a working group to develop its proposals for new government play policy. The group met at the end of April and will be researching and drafting its recommendations under the following headings (subject to change):
- An overview of play in the UK and comparison with other countries
- The roles and responsibilities of government in supporting play in England and the devolved UK .
- Play in early years settings, primary and secondary schools.
- Outdoor and indoor play: barriers and opportunities.
- Play training needs of the children’s workforce.
- Guidance about play for families.
- Play and the planning system.
- Risk and safety in play.
- Play, diversity and inclusion.
- The role of the media, advertising and the play industry in children’s play.
- Educational learning through play, before and during the school years; the role of technology in play.
- The role of playwork and staffed play provision.
- The health benefits of play – mental, emotional and physical; play as therapy; how play contributes to the public health agenda.
- The economic and social benefits of play.
- A government strategy for play – scope, aims and objectives.
The group aims to complete its initial research and drafting phase by 18th June, and to publish its full report later in the summer. A number of play professionals, including academics, are supporting the work of the group and would like to invite others in the field to contribute.
Short submissions under any of the above headings (please say which), containing specific policy proposals with fully referenced supporting evidence wherever possible, can be sent to email@example.com on or before 30 May 2015.
With election fever running high, there are suddenly many and various asks for new play policy. In this first of a two-part blog for General Election week, Adrian Voce considers the impact of government cuts on the play movement’s capacity to advocate for change.
You wait five years for a case to be made for government play policy; then, like the London buses of popular metaphor, several come along at once. There must be a general election. Or perhaps the damage inflicted since the last one has been so deep, it has taken this long for the play movement to regroup.
In the five years since the Conservative-led Coalition Government not only abandoned the Play Strategy within a fortnight of taking office, but then divested itself, for the first time since the 1980s, of any responsibility for children’s play whatsoever, calls for government action on play in England have been muted in the extreme. Until now: during the run-up to this week’s poll – one which many are calling a crossroads in British political and social history – there has been a flurry of campaigning activity by a variety of play sector groupings.
The Children’s Play Policy Forum (CPPF), the Association of Play Industries (API), the Playwork Conference in Eastbourne and, most recently, the playwork journal, iP-Dip, have each set out their different ‘asks’, hoping to influence the parties vying for power in what seems sure to be the closest-run election for decades.
Add to this list the letter to 3000 candidates from an ad hoc group that came together on Facebook, and it would seem that the national play movement has started to find its voice again. Of course there have been many valiant local battles against closures, such as the one to defend Stonebridge Adventure Playground in Brent, but without serious support, from either politicians or a diminished national sector, the results have in most cases been all too predictable.
“the plethora of advocacy for government action on play is a welcome sign that there is still life in the movement”
Leaving aside, for now, the merits or otherwise of the different proposals now published, the sudden plethora of advocacy for government action on play is a welcome sign that there is still life in the movement after a lengthy period when it has seemed all but moribund as a force for change. The problem, of course, is that the voice is actually several voices, each asking for different things from whichever party – or, more likely, combination of parties – will form the next government.
Of course, there is no reason why everyone demanding a better deal for children when it comes to public support for their play should have the same view of how to achieve it, or what it would look like. Play is a famously ambiguous thing and the ‘play sector’ is no more homogenous than any other. A diversity of views and objectives is as desirable as it is inevitable.
However, as one of our most important political champions, Chris Smith famously exhorted us in the early days of the New Labour Government, if we want policymakers to listen and respond we have to build a consensus around what it is we are asking for: ‘to speak with one voice’. Subsequent events proved this to be no pretext for inaction, and no empty promise either. It was Smith’s pledge of lottery funding for play – widely seen as his response to the sector’s efforts to collaborate around key areas, including policy – that paved the way for the Labour government’s (eventually) serious commitment to play, represented in the Play Strategy (2008).
Since those heady days, the play movement’s influencing activity has been massively reduced, its effectiveness hugely diminished; for the same obvious reason that we now have such a disparate set of proposals. In 2010-11 a government set on radically reducing the size and role of the state first introduced an emergency budget, then made a ‘bonfire of the quangos’ and didn’t mind too much what it threw on, as long as is it helped to reduce departmental budgets. Swathes of national support and development infrastructure for whole areas of public life were dismantled almost overnight. Never mind if that work was being done by charities on behalf of children and those who work with them for little or no reward. By the end of that first period of Coalition cuts, there was no government play policy for England, and no play infrastructure.
“By the end of that first period of cuts there was no government play policy for England, and no play infrastructure”.
Far from the ‘efficiency-savings’ that small-state idealogues pretend is the only outcome of scrapping what they like to characterise as ‘wasteful bureaucracy’, dismantling the support and development infrastructure for an under-developed area of public life – like how society responds to children’s right to play in the face of big social and environmental changes that constrain and inhibit it – doesn’t just leave it under-developed; it makes effective advocacy for progress much harder too.
A properly resourced network, with capacity for research, consultation and debate, means policy ideas can be developed in a rigorous, evidenced way. It also brings different perspectives together to find the common ground that can translate into cohesive proposals, not just underpinned by good arguments but also supported by those working in the field. This is vitally important to any government considering new policy; not for altruistic reasons of wanting to reward democratic process, but because it needs to know that the ‘delivery chain’ will be reliable; the policy workable because it is supported by those needing to make it work.
We should not berate ourselves that this time around consensus appears to have eluded us. It is not cynical to suppose that the cancellation of national support contracts for policy areas like play was, in fact, for this very purpose. The difference that such ‘savings’ make to government finances, which are calculated in tens of billions, is negligible. A better reason to axe the funding for the Children’s Play Information Service (NCB), the Playwork Development Strategy (Skillsactive), and especially the play policy and research work undertaken by CPC and then Play England since 2000 – minor contracts in government terms, but invaluable national development work in terms of building the capacity for change – was precisely that it would make effective advocacy for new policy much harder. One only has to consider the effect of the Lobbying Act on charities’ capacity to influence the political process to realise that the outgoing government hates voluntary sector pressure groups as much as it claims to loathe quangos.
In reality, it does not matter too much that the calls for government action on play in the next Parliament have been so disunited. By the time anyone in government is ready to listen again, the ‘asks’, as well as many of the pledges of this campaign will be long forgotten. So successful has the Coalition been in peddling its version of the economic crisis that ushered it into office, it is now more or less accepted wisdom – even in the face of authoritative testimony to the contrary – that the financial crash was caused not by reckless lending and esoteric, high-risk trading by international banks, but by the excessive public spending of the Labour government. In the face of the dreaded charge of fiscal imprudence, not even Labour has a spending plan to reverse any time soon the draconian cuts that have seen a reduction of at least 52 per cent in local play budgets since 2009-10 (CRAE, 2014). Neither do any of the parties include play in their manifesto commitments.
So, is all lost for play policy, whoever may be leading the Government this time next week? Not quite.
(To be continued)
Part 2 of this blog, tomorrow, will consider the prospects for play policy under each of the two possible leading parties of the next government.
References and footnotes
Children’s Rights Alliance for England (2014), State Of Children’s Rights In England: Review of Government action on United Nations’ recommendations for strengthening children’s rights in the UK. London: Children’s Rights Alliance for England.
 In June 2010, as well as cancelling Play Strategy work in England, the Government also withdrew from the smaller national contracts for play, which had been in place in various forms since 1982. For a short time it considered taking play policy forward within the ‘Big Society’ context (see Nick Clegg’s speech that same month) and Play England was re-commissioned (at a much reduced level) to explore the potential for this, but the Comprehensive Spending Review of October 2010 ruled out any further government interest.
 In fact, like every government, this one has found itself dependent on the work of specialist public bodies and has not been able to make its bonfire as high as it wished.
 This figure is derived from responses by only 32 of 152 local authorities issued with a Freedom of Information request by the Children’s Rights Alliance for England. It is reasonable to assume that those LAs unable to comply with the request may have made even greater cuts to their play budgets (and therefore lacked even the capacity to respond).
Dear politicians, playing children bring communities together – but they need you to protect their space9 Apr
Over 100 playworkers and play advocates have united to refute the UKIP claim that immigration stops children playing out together, and to highlight the real reasons for the decline in outdoor play.
This is a copy our letter, which is being sent to 3000 election candidates today, calling for government support for community play.
Play advocates are encouraged to adapt it with examples and quotes from families to use in local campaigns*
*Please remove signatories if the letter is altered in any way.
Following the recent assertion, from Nigel Farage of UKIP, that immigration divides communities to the extent that children can no longer play outside together, we would like to assure you that in our experience of supporting community play over many years, this is not true.
We would, however, like to highlight evidence of the real barriers to outdoor play.
Play is in some ways a delicate thing, largely unnoticed by the adult world. Yet when children are free to play, they thrive. There is plenty of evidence that playing is vital to their development, essential to good mental health and physical activity. It is how children discover their identity and their passions. Most importantly, playing is how they most enjoy being alive.
Children play regardless of their differences, and the friendships they form through play make up the social fabric that strengthens families – and whole communities. Over a number of years there has been a great deal of research into the barriers that children face to their natural desire to play with their friends in the public spaces near their homes.
The number one offender is invariably traffic, followed by parental anxiety about ‘stranger danger’.
Research (by Ipsos MORI, NOP and a range of academic institutions) over a number of years has shown that other reasons for children not playing out as much as they and their parents would like, are anxieties about bullying, too much rubbish, poorly maintained or boring playgrounds and a lack of trusted adult oversight. In recent years, fear of accusations of bad parenting has also been cited as a reason for keeping children inside. Pressure on both children’s and adults’ time – from school and work respectively – is another.
These barriers have become so great that some studies estimate that today’s children have less than 10 per cent of the space for free play, compared to only 30-40 years ago. Strong links have been made between this decline and a range of poor health trends.
None of the evidence that we have looked at suggests that immigration is a significant factor.
On the contrary, children playing outside bring people together and engender strong, cohesive communities. We see children from diverse backgrounds playing together in their local neighbourhoods every day, but to enable and support more children to play outside – the way they have for countless generations all over the world – we need to control traffic, not immigration. Children and their parents need to have confidence in the public spaces where they would play.
They need more road closures, lower speed limits, safe routes to school and play areas, more and better community policing; and funding for playwork and community play projects. In the longer-term, planning decisions and spatial development strategies must consider what children need from the built environment and the wider public realm.
We would like to invite you to meet some of us and to visit the streets, estates and villages where you can see for yourself the power of community play. We would also be more than happy to discuss with you how the new government can support children’s play after the election.
Please pledge today to work with us to improve the spaces where families live; to support community play for the UK’s children – in all their glorious diversity.
We look forward to hearing from you.
Isabelle Allen, Playworker, Sycamore Adventure
Marc Armitage, Independent Playwork Consultant
Arthur Battram, PleXity
Tracey Beasley, Playwork and Early Years Trainer, CWT – Chamber Training
Joan Beattie, EQ Playwork Training and Consultancy
Lucy Benson, Islington Play Association
Steve Boeje, Play Association Hammersmith and Fulham
Jackie Boldon and the Shiremoor Adventure Playground team
Dani Bowman, Community Development Officer, High Wycombe
Karen Benjamin, Training and Development Officer, Playwork Partnerships
Janine Sally Brady
Professor Fraser Brown
Donne Buck, New Ark Adventure Playground
Petra Burgess, senior playworker, Bapp
Phill Burton, Dynamix
Rebecca Coley, Birmingham PlayCare Service
Samuel Butler, St. John Ambulance
Theresa Casey, International Play Association (IPA)
Laura Jane Clifton
Lottie Child, Lecturer, the University of the Arts and Forest School Leader
Mick Conway, Playday Founder and member of The Wild Network Council
Rachel Cross, Playworker, Bristol
Pete Darlo, Playful human
Elaine Davies, Chief Executive, About Play
Tiu De Haan
Siobhan Dillon, College Park Residents Association, NW10
Vicky Edwards, Crawley Play Service
Cinzia Ferella, International Sales Manager, Sutcliffe Play
Marvlon Gardener, Nana Marz Childcare
Tim Gill, Independent Researcher
Anita Grant, Islington Play Association
Paul Greatorex, Play consultant, Leisure and the Environment
Claire Griffiths, Play Department Manager of AVOW, Play on Plas Madoc
Andy Grout, Playworker
Sylwyn Guilbaud, Playworker
John Hale, Somerstown Adventure Playground, Portsmouth
Bridget Handscomb, Hackney Play Association
Chris Harwood, Sandwell Adventure Play Association
Donna Hawkins, Playworker, Brighton
Andy Hinchcliffe, Pop-Up Adventure Play
Paul Hocker, Development Director, London Play
Claire House, Smash Club Manager
Caitlin Howells, Community Artist and Playworker, Norfolk
Abi Ps Hunter
Haki Kapasi, Inspire
Tony Kendle, The Eden Project
Yanina Koszalinski, Pitsmoor Adventure Playground
Dr. Pete King
Leonie Labistour, University of Gloucestershire
Suzanna Law, Pop-Up Adventure Play
Amanda Lawler, Playworker, Funzone Ltd.
Morgan Leichter-Saxby, Pop-Up Adventure Play
Pip Levett, Director of Play, Play Gloucestershire
Marianne Mannello, Playworker
Melian Mansfield, Chair, London Play
Chris Martin, Playwork Convenor, Unite the union
Nathan MacGillivray, Play Development Worker
Lisa Matthew, Play Mosaic Ltd.
Dr. Mel McCree
Keeks Mcgarry, Shiremoor Adventure Playground
Ken McKeating, Playwork Manager
Patrick Meleady, Pitsmoor Adventure Playground
Sue Morris, Community Stuff
Rachel Murray, Playwork Consultant and Forest School Practitioner
Jade Newton-Gardener, IMAP
Eddie Nuttall, Felix Road Adventure Playground
Emma Payne, Birmingham PlayCare Network
Tanya Petherick, Director, Class Of Their Own
Carolyn Port, Chair of Governors, Winterslow Primary School and Founder of Winterslow Youth Zone
Dave Poulton, Playworker
David Spencer Ramsey
Lynda Ray, About Play, Sheffield
Rachel Rose Reid
Simon Rix, Meriden Adventure Playground Association
Shelly Rossiter, Manager, YMCA, Dorset
Michael Rowan, Parks Consultant, Aucuparia Consultancy
Dr. Wendy Russell, University of Gloucestershire
Joel Seath, Playworker
Sasha Sencier Persaud-Jagdhar
Lily Slingo, School Play Coordinator, Bristol
Tania Slingo, Parent
Colin Simmons, Trustee, London Play
Panash Shah, Cambridge Kids Club
Hilary Smith, University of Gloucestershire
Kate Smith, Tiverton Adventure Playground
Rachel Temple, Ceda
Adrian Voce OBE
Barry Walden, Vice Chair, London Play
Paul Waller, Brighton and Hove Play Service
Laura Walsh, Central YMCA Club
Philip Waters, The Eden Project
Laura Watkins, Woodland Toddlers, Busy Rascals and Pitsmoor Adventure Playground
Margaret Westwood, International Play Association (IPA), Scotland
Raymond Arnold Willis, Play Manager
Niki Willows, Playworker and Trainer, Rounded & Grounded
Ali Wood, Independent Playwork Trainer and Researcher
Will Wpa, Senior Playworker @wpaplay Play Association
Charlie Rebekah Caplan Wilson
Charlie Wilson, Supervisor, Class of Their Own, Brighton
Penny Wilson, Playworker
Mike Wragg, Chair, Eccleshill Adventure Playground
Sandra Wright, Leader, Wild Foxes Forest School
Proposals from the National Playwork Conference in Eastbourne show that the playwork sector has lost none of its ambition, or its fight
A special session at the National Playwork Conference in Eastbourne earlier this month has produced a clear and ambitious play policy agenda ahead of the General Election. Here is the text of a joint statement from the conference convenors and the steering group for a new vehicle for playwork:
“A General Comment from the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in 2013 said that governments have an obligation under international law to ‘recognise, protect and fulfil’ children’s right to play, through appropriate legislation, planning and budgeting.
A recent research review of the impact of children’s play initiatives found that there is good evidence that they ‘lead to improved health outcomes for children, and are also linked to a range of other developmental benefits’ and that these can be shown to be cost-effective.
Yet, in spite of it being a clear responsibility of government and there being good evidence of its immediate and long-term benefits, public play provision has been one of the main casualties of austerity. A ten-year play strategy for England was abandoned after only two years, and the voices of children and those who support their play have been virtually unheard in the debate about the economy and public services.
UK playworkers now call on political parties to recognise the vital importance of time and space to play in children’s lives and of the vital role of playwork in opening up opportunities otherwise denied to many of them.
We urge all parties, relevant government ministers and other agencies to adopt children’s right to play as a central plank of policy for children and to take urgent steps to protect the country’s unique network of staffed play provision, such as adventure playgrounds, by developing a new national play strategy to include: –
- A statutory play sufficiency duty for all local councils, as is now the case in Wales.
- Recognising playwork training and qualifications as essential to extended services, after-school, and holiday play provision.
- Reforming the regulation of extended services and out-of school provision to make playwork practice an essential part of the inspection criteria.
- Reinstating central funding for infrastructure, professional workforce development and a new national body for playwork.
- Directing Public Health England to work with local authorities to develop area-wide strategies for free play.
- Making play policy a core component of a new Cabinet post for children.
- Addressing the need for equitable terms and conditions for playworkers.
- Developing a national programme of ‘playable neighbourhoods’, expanding the numbers of adventure playgrounds, play streets, home zones and play ranger schemes and by supporting playwork and community play development projects.
- Reforming anti-social behaviour law affecting children’s play so that participation and mediation replace criminalisation.
The playwork sector will continue to develop these proposals in consultation with the field, and is committed to working with government and other agencies to realise such measures in the interests of all the UK’s children, their families and communities”.
Drafted from workshop discussions, feedback sessions and prioritising exercises at the National Playwork Conference, Eastbourne, March 2015, facilitated by Ali Wood and Pete Duncan.
The Eastbourne statement can be downloaded as a pdf here: Playwork policy proposals
 UNCRC (2013) General Comment (GC17) on Article 31 of the CRC.
 Gill, T. (2014) The Play Return: a review of the wider impact of play initiatives, London: Children’s Play Policy Forum.
 An investigation by Children and Young People Now, reported in January 2014 found that local authority spending on play services over the past three years had been reduced by an average of 39 per cent.