Playwork body warns of fragmentation of training and qualifications

15 Feb

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The Playwork Foundation has warned that changes to the regulatory framework and a steep decline in play services have led to a fragmented landscape for playwork training and qualifications in the UK. The new body, an independent advocate for playwork and playworkers, has produced a briefing paper that aims to clarify the picture in each of the four UK nations. It warns that, ‘despite the needs and wishes of the playwork sector – playworkers, playwork employers and commissioners – for trained and qualified staff, there is now very little funding for playwork qualifications’.

A discussion about the problems facing the playwork training sector – and playworkers seeking qualification – will be hosted by Play England at this year’s National Playwork Conference in Eastbourne on 7-8 March.

Adventure playgrounds are too important to consign to history

8 Feb

Eran at Glamis

A variety of recent projects in the arts, heritage and academic sectors have taken adventure playgrounds as their theme, bringing welcome attention to this important part of the UK play scene. However, cautions Adrian Voce, it would be a mistake, and a missed opportunity, if the surge of interest were to be predominantly nostalgic or historical.

Over the last year or so, adventure playgrounds in the UK seem to have become the subject of wider than usual attention far beyond the usual play and playwork sectors. In truth, this swell of interest is around an accumulation of separate projects and initiatives, which have each either come to fruition or been launched, with attendant publicity, around the same time.

Perhaps the most high profile of these, certainly in terms of popular culture, is no less than a brand new stage musical. The Lockleaze adventure playground in Bristol, known locally simply as ‘The Vench’, is both the subject and the setting for an original new comedy-musical, described by the Bristol Post as ‘a wildly funny and vivid new production about a miscreant group of Bristolian misfit teenagers who come together to build an adventure playground’. Junkyard will open on 24 February at Bristol’s Old Vic theatre.

Sharing memories

The Vench was also one of a number of adventure playgrounds in the West of England cities of Bristol and Gloucester, recently mined by researchers for the memories that they have inspired and bequeathed to their local communities. Sharing Memories of Adventure Playgrounds (SMAP) was a research project of the University of Gloucestershire that beautifully conveyed, through an exhibition, a film and a short report, the unique role that places like the Vench can play in the lives of successive generations of communities, and the value they hold for neighbourhoods where there may not otherwise be much that children can call their own.

Elsewhere in England, researchers and curators at the Queen Mary, University of London and the V&A’s Museum of Childhood respectively are also collaborating on an exciting new initiative on the social history of London’s adventure playgrounds. Adventures in the City: the politics and practice of children’s adventure play in urban Britain, 1955–97 is a funded PhD project that began last year and will culminate in a new, interactive, permanent exhibition (an adventure playground, one presumes – as much as such a thing is possible within this context) at the museum’s popular Bethnal Green site in East London.

One hears of other doctorates that have identified adventure playgrounds and their history as a subject ripe for researching (e.g. Shelly Newstead’s paper at Child in the City 2014). There are other artistic ventures too. Mark Neville’s recently opened exhibition of photographs on the theme of ‘Child’s Play’ chooses adventure playgrounds as the setting for what it describes as ‘play in free space’. Neville juxtaposes his commanding images of children very much taking their space in some of London’s adventure playgrounds with those of children in less sympathetic contexts: the ‘structured space’ of school, and the ‘oppressed space’ of war and poverty.

‘Fulfilling childhood’

2015 saw the release of a short documentary film by Erin Davis ‘about the nature of play, risk and hazard’ set in The Land, an adventure playground in North Wales. ‘The Land’, as the documentary is also called, was described by Hanna Rosin in The Atlantic as a film that ‘will change everything you think you believe … In scene after natural scene the truth becomes obvious: With a little bit of creativity, empathy and guidance, children can be freed to experience a much more fun, adventurous and fulfilling childhood.’

This kind of exposure and recognition for a form of provision that perennially struggles on meagre budgets and – with some rare exceptions – little support from their local authorities, can only be welcome. It is important too, that both academia and the heritage sector are taking adventure playgrounds seriously as the subject of research and cultural archive.

Nevertheless, play advocates may also feel a little uneasy that so much of this attention is from an historical perspective. It is more than implied in this approach that adventure playgrounds today, if not quite anachronistic, are certainly an ‘endangered species’, as Dr. Wendy Russell acknowledged at the launch of the SMAP project last month. She estimates that there are no more than 150 remaining in the UK – and that not all of these are necessarily adventure playgrounds in the original sense of the term – compared to more than 500 in their 70s heyday.

Sense of community

Exploring the reason for this decline needs an article (or a PhD!) all to itself, but as Mark Neville’s exhibition and its accompanying book assert, Erin Davis’ film so eloquently conveys and the children past and present of Bristol and Gloucester’s adventure playgrounds say for themselves, the supported space to play – with materials large and small, with the elements, and with the full spectrum of human curiosity, invention, and interaction, protected from the future focused, outcomes-obsessed world of adult-laid plans and rules for them – and the unique experience of community that is given to children in a proper adventure playground, is too vital to be merely a museum piece.

We must hope, rather, that exhibiting adventure playgrounds, researching their history, and celebrating them through the arts will alert a new generation of advocates, policymakers and funders to their unique value to children and communities now.

Adrian Voce

Photo: Eran at Glamis Adventure Playground by Adrian Voce

Adrian Voce succeeds Jan van Gils as child-friendly city network president

14 Dec

re-posted from childinthecity.eu

The English writer and campaigner Adrian Voce OBE has been elected to succeed Jan van Gils PhD, as President of the European Network for Child Friendly Cities (ENCFC). Dr. Van Gils announced his retirement from the role that he has filled for more than 14 years at the conclusion of the 8th biennial event, held in Ghent, Belgium in November.

Jan van Gilsjanvangils-230x230 was the founder of the ENCFC and inaugurated the Child in the City conference in Bruges, Belgium in 2002. Under his leadership, the network and the conference have grown in popularity and influence. Produced every two years in a different European city by a partnership of the ENCFC and the Child in the City Foundation, the conference has become a fixture for children’s rights advocates, academics, practitioners and policy-makers working for more child friendly towns and cities around the world.

Warm tributes were paid by the conference in Ghent to the immensely popular Van Gils, who is a Doctor in Pedagogic Sciences, author of several books and was the director of the Research Centre for Childhood and Society in Belgium, as well as being also President of the International Council for Children’s Play. He was described by the Chair of the Child in the City Foundation, Johan Haarhuis, as ‘a great man to work with; incredibly generous with his time and inspiring with his vision’. His successor, Adrian Voce, speaking on behalf of the whole network, said that Dr Van Gils would be ‘a very tough act to follow’ who had ‘given more to the movement for children-friendly approaches to planning and managing our towns and cites than anyone will ever know’.

img_2061Adrian Voce, who has taken on the role of President for an initial two years, is a former playworker, trainer, special needs assistant and residential social worker who became the first director of London Play in 1998 and then the founding director of Play England in 2006. He is the author of Policy for Play: responding to children’s forgotten right, which documents the story of the play strategy for England of 2008-11 and the influencing and campaigning work that led to it. He played a key role in securing London as the host city for the second Child in the City conference in London in 2004 and has been a member of the ENCFC steering group since 2012.

Space to Play symposium – call for papers

1 Dec

The Foundling Museum in London has issued a call for papers for its forthcoming symposium, Space to Play, to be held at the Museum on 20 March 2017.  The symposium is  organised in collaboration with children’s play author, consultant and campaigner, Adrian Voce OBE and is running in conjunction with the Museum’s Spring exhibition Child’s Play, which features the photographic work of artist Mark Neville.

The exhibition and symposium aim to raise awareness and generate debate around the complex nature of children’s play, and to advocate for improved provision for this universal right.

The deadline for proposals is 6 January 2017.

The call papers can be downloaded here

Artist Mark Neville explores childhood play in collaboration with The Foundling Museum

12 Oct

By Tom Seymour (reblogged from bjp-online.com)

mark-neville-the-jungle-book-rehearsals-sewickley-academy-2012-courtesy-mark-neville

Main image: Mark Neville, ‘The Jungle Book Rehearsals, Sewickley Academy’, 2012. All images © Mark Neville, courtesy The Foundling Museum

As identified by the UN in the 2013 General Comment on Article 31 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child – a child has a universal human right to play. A new exhibition of photographs, as well as a symposium and photobook, by photographer Mark Neville, aims to generate debate around the complex nature of child’s play, and to advocate for improved provision for this universal right. At a time when up to 13 million children have been internally displaced as a result of armed conflict, photographer Mark Neville presents a series of images of children at play in diverse environments around the world.

Immersing himself in communities from Port Glasgow to North London, and in the war zones of Afghanistan and Ukraine, the series is a celebration of the thing that all children, regardless of their environment do – play.

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Mark Neville, ‘Boy with Hoop in Kakuma Refugee Camp, Kenya’, 2016

The exhibition includes new photographs of internally displaced children in Ukraine; residents of Kakuma, Kenya’s second largest refugee camp, and depictions of children at play in London adventure playgrounds.

Through his photographs Neville captures children’s spontaneous urge to play and their determination to do so in the most unfavourable environments. His images reveal how, through play, children claim a place of power, safety and freedom.

Presenting the images on display along with an overview of the groundbreaking work in the field of child’s play, a book will seek to raise awareness of this universal right, and also focus attention on attitudes towards play in the UK and how the conditions for children can be improved.

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Mark Neville, ‘Child, Jacket, Slaughtered Goat, Sweets, Painted Nails, Xmas Day, Helmand’, 2010

Adrian Voce – playworker, writer and former director of the campaigning body Play England – gives an overview of the national and international work in the field of child’s play, alongside a review of cultural representations of children at play and historical attitudes towards childhood, as seen through the prism of the Foundling Hospital, by curator Nicola Freeman. Copies of the book will be disseminated free to key policy makers and government departments, experts in the field, and to each of the UK’s 433 local councils, in order to directly impact upon government policy thinking and strategy.

A symposium on 20 March will explore the issue of spaces for play, looking at the real and imagined barriers to play in our cities, and focusing in particular on the privatisation of space.

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Mark Neville, ‘Arts and Crafts at Somerford Grove Adventure Playground’, 2011, courtesy Alan Cristea Gallery

In the context of the Museum, the idea of spontaneous play is set against the institutional play evidenced at the Foundling Hospital through archive photographs and film footage. Founded in 1739, the history of the Hospital mirrors the growing recognition of the distinctive needs of children, and the role of play in their lives – from the proliferation of children’s toys and books in the 18th century and campaigns for playgrounds throughout the 19th century, to the closing of the Bloomsbury estate in the early 20th century, now within a fully developed area of London, to give the children better access to fresh air and nature.

Mark Neville said: ‘The right of the child to play a barely discussed, yet fundamental human right.

“We aim to use the Museum as a space for debate and an instrument to improve the rights of vulnerable children.

“By addressing the issues through three symbiotic strategies – an exhibition at the Museum, a hardback photobook with a targeted dissemination, and a symposium – we believe we can really make an impact on this forgotten right.”

Caro Howell, Director of the Foundling Museum, said: “Play is creative, disruptive and a universal human drive. Mark Neville’s powerful images demonstrate its essential role in enabling a child to make sense of the world and to shape their place in it, no matter how challenging the environment.”

Child’s Play is on show from 3 February – 30 April 2017 at The Foundling Museum, 40 Brunswick Square, London WC1N 1AZ.

More information is available here.

If we want children to be happy and healthy, we have to make space for them to play

7 Oct

The crisis in young people’s mental health needs resources for more and better services, but it should also be a wake-up call for policymakers who have neglected one of the most fundamental ways to prevent it in the first place: properly addressing children’s basic need for time and space to play

Reactions to what is widely being called ‘a crisis in young people’s mental health’ has tended to focus on the quality and availability of the services for children and teenagers who need help, and on the excessive pressures of an education system that causes such distress to young minds.

There are good reasons for such concern. NHS figures[1] have revealed that, as at June 2016, more than 235,000 young people (aged 18 and under) were accessing specialist mental health services for such problems as anxiety, depression, self-harming and eating disorders. Research by the Guardian suggests that a large majority of those working to deliver this support believe it is inadequate; a view endorsed by Young Minds, the UK’s leading mental health charity for children.

Meanwhile, Natasha Devon, the Government’s own mental health champion for schools until the role was abolished in May 2016, has produced a harshly critical report of the DfE and its recent reforms, blaming the education system’s narrow focus on academic subjects and passing exams at the expense of PSHE[2], sport and the arts, for ‘actively conspiring against good paediatric and adolescent mental health’.

if children are increasingly constrained in the behaviour they most enjoy, we should not be too surprised if they develop symptoms of unhappiness.

Commenting in the Guardian this week, Owen Jones attempted to broaden the picture, calling for a ‘remorseless focus’ on what he identifies as the economic and social causes that ‘drive children to mental distress in the first place: overcrowding, poor housing, poor diet; lack of exercise, family conflict … (and) poverty’. Nowhere in this debate has one of the more obvious issues been identified, which is that if children are increasingly constrained in the behaviour they most enjoy, we should not be too surprised if they develop symptoms of unhappiness.

Psychologists from a range of perspectives have long identified play as crucial to children’s emotional wellbeing, happiness and fulfilment; key to their capacity to experience the vitality of living in the here and now; and fundamental to their developing resilience, adaptability and creativity. The Mental Health Foundation recognises as much: placing the important role of play second on a checklist for maintaining children’s good mental health. The great play scholar Brian Sutton-Smith was not trying to be smart when he said ‘the opposite of play isn’t work, it’s depression’.

Successive governments have turned their back on play

Successive governments have turned their back on play

In 2008, after the UK came bottom of a Unicef league table of the wellbeing of developed nations’ children, there was a consensus  – across the child policy as well as the political spectrum – that children desperately needed more time, space and opportunity to play, not virtually, on screens and social media, but with their actual friends, outside, as they have done for millennia. A 10-year strategy was launched to ‘make England the best place in the world to grow up’, with every neighbourhood made safer from traffic and containing attractive places to play within easy reach of children’s homes.

a genuinely child-friendly, playable public realm seems further away than ever.

As we all know, the Play Strategy was abandoned almost immediately the Coalition Government took office in 2010 and, in spite of growing evidence that free play in the real world is a vital component of a healthy, happy childhood, no serious attempt was made by either of David Cameron’s governments to fashion their own response to what the former Prime Minister himself described as the dearth of ‘everyday adventures’ that was making British children ‘the unhappiest in the developed world’. Indeed, children’s play services up and down the country have been decimated by austerity measures ever since; and the play strategy’s broader ambition – to create a genuinely child-friendly, playable public realm – seems further away than ever.

Theresa May says her new government will be ‘driven not by the interests of a privileged few’, but aim to create a fairer society that ‘works for everyone’. She may not have had children in mind when she said this, but as she and her chancellor begin to again redefine the role of the state, to perhaps play a greater role in the funding of public infrastructure, we should hold her to account not just for the state of the services that children need when they are distressed, but for the quality of the environments they have to grow up in. If we ‘want a society that promotes happiness and wellbeing among children’ we must start by giving them back the space where they are happiest, and the freedom to enjoy it.

Adrian Voce

[1] Mental Health Services Data Set (MHSDS), NHS Digital

[2] Personal, Social and Health Education

A condensed version of this article has appeared in today’s Guardian, on the letters page.

Why we need the Playwork Foundation

13 Jul

In this adapted version of an article originally published in the International Journal of Play, Adrian Voce places the establishment of the Playwork Foundation in its historical context, and sugge…

Source: Why we need the Playwork Foundation

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