plā′wėrk′ings, n. Portions of play matters consideration; draft formations.

As I grow increasingly aware of the readership (and of the potential readership) of this blog on (if not ‘all’ then ‘many’ things) play and playwork, I’m becoming more and more open to it also being a platform for guest blogs on and around the subject matter. So, to that end, there follows a guest blog from my playwork colleague and occasional partner-in-beer, fellow ‘putter-of-the-world-to-rights’, Rich Driffield. We both attended the 12th National Playwork Conference in Eastbourne this week and being part of that community again seems to have had an affect on both of us (though I shall reserve my own extended thoughts here for a time when I’ve fully processed them).

Suffice is to say that what we do, fellow playworkers reading here (and also those of you who have found your way back here or who’ve come here for the first time, from any field that you find yourself in), what we do is something very special. When I looked around the conference hall and saw playworkers who could relate to the things I do on the playground without any difficulty of explanation, I too felt part of a unique band of people. The opportunity to talk about the taboo and difficult subjects in rational safety with people who’ve also been around for many years in the field, or to have incidental or depth discussions again with fellow playworkers, fellow writers, other trainers, lecturers or professors in the ‘salon’ area we set up, or in the pub, was inspiring.

My head was spinning for two and a half days because of the intensity of discussions, because of listening, because of focus. It also became clear to me that, within the support network out there in the playwork field, some individuals are even more appreciative of the thoughts and words of writers such as myself than I’d fully appreciated. To this end, a quick note here is made in appreciation and acknowledgement of those supporters in my being bestowed the Playwork Writer Award 2014. Also, very great specific thanks are sent the way of Captain Complexity, ‘Wing Commander’ Arthur Battram (he of the excellent title blag!) in agreeing to collect this award on my behalf!

So, without further ado, it’s over to m’learned colleague Rich Driffield and his guest blog regarding his take on the conference and on being part of this community of playwork people. Rich writes:
It was with a hint of sadness that I boarded the train back to London Victoria on Wednesday afternoon. I have been encouraged to blog before but I have never really felt the need until now. Anyway, it was not the type of sadness that brought tears but instead a kind of sadness that brought a huge sense of pride and of belonging to something. I am talking about my feelings in response to ‘hanging out’ at the Playwork Conference in Eastbourne, mainly in the ‘salon’ amongst a unique group of people.

This year I got a lot out of conference: not that I didn’t in previous years but, in 2014, Eastbourne was exactly what I needed. The various conversations I engaged in, listened to, the old friends I caught up with, those people whose faces I knew but not their names, who I finally had the opportunity to speak to, led to time very well spent. It was a productive two days: I learnt things, spoke about nonsense, and laughed. But more importantly, I felt part of something again.

I sat around, mostly in the ‘salon’, and felt totally at ease. I went to a number of workshops and felt like I had something to give and something to be given. The majority of people I spent my time with totally enthralled me. This assemblage of personalities, new and old, led me to feel proud. The ten or so individuals I spent most of my time with inspired me: I hope in some way they got something from me too. In an increasingly difficult world, it is crucial that — as playworkers — we continue to stick together because we are an amazing bunch of people who do a bloody hard job.

This togetherness is something that really struck me over the last few days, and it led to the sadness I felt when leaving. It is something I have struggled to find in the past two years since moving on to a new place. Hurdles upon hurdles have been put in place, and there have been times when I’ve felt surrounded by thoughts on learning, safety and control rather than the children, who should always come first. As I boarded the train I felt I was leaving on my own again back to the ‘real world’ of seriousness and, as Eddie alluded to in his workshop, ‘bullshit’.

As I sat writing this at my kitchen table, I listened to Radio Two and a Rolling Stones track came on. This to me was a mini-celebration and, as I reviewed the last few days with the music playing, it honestly felt really good. I was back; I have discovered what it feels like to be a playworker again; I felt part of a much wider team, and I thank all the people I met for getting me back to this point!

So, what from here? Will I forget this warm fuzzy feeling in a week or so and revert back to the ‘bullshit real world’, becoming frustrated all over again? Well, maybe a little, but an important thing for me is to keep my fellow colleagues close, work on what we know, continue to develop our thinking, and pick each other up when we are down. That is what playworkers should do, and we should be confident in what we believe in. As to those who work away from here who I met: let’s talk occasionally, moan and joke on social networks, but also remember that we are playworkers, and that’s crucial to remember in times of peril.


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