Tag Archives: children’s play

London conference: Children’s Play in the Urban Environment, 6-7 November

16 Oct

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Adrian Voce will host this Child in the City international seminar at Goldsmiths University of London on 6-7 November 2017.

It has never been harder for children and young people in the modern city to find somewhere to play or meet with their friends, due to the following issues:

  • the seemingly ever-growing dominance of traffic and commerce
  • increasing urban populations
  • economic pressures on public space and
  • austerity policies leading to the closure of many playgrounds and youth clubs

On 6-7 November 2017 the Child in the City International Seminar will focus on these emerging issues by addressing the theme ‘Children’s Play in the Urban Environment’. The seminar will look at the latest research on children’s play and young people’s culture and its relationship to health and wellbeing trends.

Diverse programme and audience

Child in the City International Seminars is a rolling programme of focused events, each bringing together practitioners, children’s professionals, play workers, city planners, landscape architects, geographers and policymakers, along with researchers, academics and advocates, researchers and policymakers from different relevant fields around a specific theme of the child-friendly city agenda.

With the seemingly ever-growing dominance of traffic and commerce, increasing urban populations, economic pressures on public space, and austerity policies leading to the closure of many playgrounds and youth clubs, it has never been harder for children and young people in the modern city to find somewhere to play or meet with their friends.

Latest research

The outside world of the urban landscape is widely considered unsafe for younger children while teenagers themselves are often viewed as a threat to public order. Yet the freedom to enjoy their own play and recreation, to participate with their peers in the cultural and social life of their neighbourhoods, towns and cities is a human right for all children and young people, recognised in international law.

 This second Child in the City international seminar will look at some of the latest research on children’s play and young people’s culture in the modern city and its relationship to health and wellbeing trends.

The seminar will consider policy options and explore good practice examples –through presentations from around the world and field trips to projects in London – on how different cities are addressing this most quintessential of children’s rights: to grow up in a community that recognises and supports their need to play and be with their friends – without adult pressure or agendas, but within shared, intergenerational urban landscapes that allow the whole community to thrive.

For more information click on the image below

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National survey marks 30 years of Playday

12 Jul

IMG_2861Playday will be 30 years old this August and the four national play organisations in the UK that coordinate the event have launched a survey to mark the anniversary. The survey canvasses opinions on how play has changed in the UK over the last thirty years. However, the response, particularly in England, has to date been below expectations.

In a recent circular the Playday group says that ‘although we already have over 1000 responses, the response rate is much lower in England than in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland. We are keen to try and boost responses (throughout the UK, but particularly in England) in advance of the 21st July deadline.

The survey invitation from the Playday group appears below.


Complete the Playday survey here

play-day-logo

What do you think about playing today and how have play opportunities changed for children, families and communities through time? We want to hear what you think. Playday, the national day to celebrate play, is 30 years old this year.

The national organisations that promote play in the UK want to find out how play opportunities have changed over these years and need your help. Could you spare some time to complete an online survey?

Please visit  ​to complete the survey here and share this link with your friends, family, neighbours and colleagues. Help us understand the nature of play in the UK today and how this has changed over the last 30 years.

The Playday survey will close on 21 July 2017.
Playday this year will be on 2 August. More information can be found here

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

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