There’s only one place to start writing this week: that is that our place, White City Adventure Playground, has been officially chosen as London Play’s Adventure Playground of the Year for 2014! Many of you in the playwork sector will already know this, but some of you may not: so here’s the celebration on this platform. It’s pleasing to highlight years of development and hard work with the receipt of this award, but it’s also particularly satisfying to hear that the children of last year’s award winners, Shakespeare Walk in Hackney, chose White City as — presumably — the place they’d most like to play, out of the short-listed entries. Our film is here, and this is London Play’s edited highlights of the event.
When I write ‘our place’, of course the playground is the children’s but without the hard work and dedication of my current and former colleagues, this essential square of land in the middle of these tenement blocks could have drifted into something else entirely. The more I work on this patch, the more I see it as an important part of the lives of all the children it gives essential breathing and being space to. There are those children who drift on by and who, to be honest, drift in and out and smile and play and drift away again, but there are also those who have every other need to come in and we see the gradual build up of this as term time slides by and half terms get ever closer. To have an open access place all year round would work for so many children in the area (so, funders out there . . .), but the after school sessions as we have them are full of children’s own play too. This is an important point: I have seen many (and I mean ‘many’, across several counties and boroughs) after school provisions, and the play in a great deal of those is heavily weighed upon by adult agendas of all manner of flavours. This play is not ours: I’ve said this many times. Let the children play to their own designs.
As per last year’s London Play Awards blog piece (where we received the 2013 Innovation Award), there follows a few play notes about getting to and from and being at the ceremony. This year we took a small bunch of children, via the underground, up north of Camden to East Finchley and to a small cinema to see all the short-listed films for various awards. Despite there being a great green fence around the perimeter of the playground, some of us are of the opinion that play doesn’t stop when the line of the gate is crossed back out onto the street again: chancing our luck via King’s Cross instead of the central line, we came out into the sunshine of north London and the children fell around the street in good song and humour, parkouring (if there is such a verb!) up the paving slab inclines to the side of the street.
We thought we were fashionably late, but some were more fashionably late than us. It didn’t matter. Things seemed to be taking place in an ‘as and when’ way, and by and by our compere arrived, dressed this year in at least four costumes all one on top of the other. The man must have been full of energy drinks and other sugared stimulants because I don’t know how he managed to keep up the jumping around in various monkey, bear and other guises, under the house lights, for an hour and a half! The children in the cinema seats duly jumped around and heckled and the like, but despite this, I have my older self to blame for a nagging disdain of all things ‘wacky, zany’!
Personal preferences aside, play happened (face painting on stage, a hundred odd beach balls flung around, dancing, and generally lots of sugared up energy all round!). We were up for a few awards, and as each award went by and we hadn’t won any of them, the children near me from White City started getting a little despondent: ‘We’re not going to win anything,’ they told me (raise expectations and there are after-effects!) I said for them not to worry, we might get a shot at ‘the big one’. They asked me if we’d win it, and I said I really didn’t know. Despite all this, it pleasantly surprised me that when a soundtrack to another playground’s film came on, a song they knew and seemed to like, the children went from building despondency to instant sing-and-dance-along in their seats.
When finally the last trophy on the stage was reached, it seemed a long pause but it probably wasn’t, ‘And the winner is . . . White City Adventure Playground’. The White City children jumped up, and I said to those near me, ‘Go, go up on stage.’ There’s something to be said for being humble in receiving an award and our children were, shall we say, blessed with other attributes! We can’t tell them what to feel though, this is playwork: there was shouting into the microphone that ‘We won!’ and an acceptance speech that just made me laugh because a Hollywood starlet was born, complete with a flourish in her thanks!
I see it all as play. There were other attendees who didn’t win anything, but truly for me there looked to be some great places to play shown up there on the screen. It’s a tribute to all the playworkers out there who are doing such work with such dedication: some will be getting paid nowhere near what they deserve (but they do it anyway because they need to), some will be experiencing a rough ride with the parlous current general state of playworking affairs, they will be giving all they have (physically and emotionally) to see that the children in their areas get to play how they want and need to play. This cannot be overstated enough. I think there should be a campaign (I start it now) aimed at the non-playworker-but-sympathiser: if you ever ask a stranger at the bar what they do and they say ‘I’m a playworker’, buy them a pint! You never know, they just might be giving their all to support your child to play.
I digress. After the ceremony at the cinema, the children were interviewed for press releases, and we must have made the photographer wait an age as the children chatted around in the lobby, ate their lunch, and just soaked it all up. They played on the underground train back via King’s Cross (hanging from the handrails, plastic spiders, beach ball headers and catches in the carriage), and when we came out into the west London sunshine, the children concocted a plan to try to ‘look sad’ to our colleagues who were working with the day’s open access children on the playground. We entered the gates and the children managed to keep up the pretence for a good thirty seconds or so!
It was beautiful on the playground, there’s no other way of describing it. It was calm and flowing, quietly hectic and bubbling away, everything was possible and full of light and warmth. The sun makes such a difference in late October. The children we took on the journey to north London blended into the general playground scene to play. It took me a while to re-acclimatise after the bustle of the city: here, I thought, is an enclave of play amongst the tenements; here is privilege.
In celebrating White City’s award, I also celebrate the dedication of my playworker colleagues, in all the places where they work ‘out there’ so that children can play in the way that they want and need to: keep on doing what you do and know that you are appreciated.