Rising to the Covid challenge

Julia Sexton, a trustee of Pitsmoor Adventure Playground, describes how the physical space of the playground is giving way, during lockdown, to the relational space of the project’s integral links with its community

Adventure playgrounds are more than just physical spaces. They are relational spaces (Lester, Fitzpatrick and Russell, 2014); each unique and individual, created through physical, emotional and social encounters (Massey, 2005). As a relational space, the adventure playground is co-produced through on-going, every day, ordinary encounters, habits and routines (Lester, Fitzpatrick and Russell, 2014) involving humans and things situated within wider social, political and material environments.

So, what happens when due to the Covid-19 outbreak and the regulations put in place to minimise the risk of the virus spreading, adventure playgrounds close? The physical space is closed to children and families and the everyday, ordinary encounters, habits and routines that co-produce the relational space are disrupted, but can the relational space continue in a different form?

“Playworkers are nothing if not resourceful”

Playworkers are nothing if not resourceful and the staff at Pitsmoor Adventure Playground have risen to the challenge in these difficult times of keeping the relational space of the adventure playground alive and well, helping people stay safe and working hard to keep play on everyone’s agenda, locally, regionally and across the UK.

Just as all adventure playgrounds are unique and individual, the support provided also needs to be unique and individual to the children, families and communities they serve. There are many amazing ideas and activities on the internet but many of the children and families that use the playground do not have devices, so this needed to be considered when thinking about different ways to support the children’s play. 

Whilst understanding that children can play with anything or in fact no things, just their imagination, the playworkers recognised that there can be constraints to children being able to do this for lots of reasons such as limited resources and space at home, parental understanding of play and remote teaching lessons and homework. In response to this the playworkers felt that it was important to continue to support the children having opportunities to direct themselves and be spontaneous in their play as they had had when playing on the playground.

Contacting families

The playground staff have been in contact with families by telephone to check that they are ok. Play packs have been made up using materials from the playground and Scrap Dragon, the local scrapstore, for distribution to families.  Careful consideration has been given to including varied materials such as different types of card and paper, oddments of wool, pom poms, pipe cleaners, random sparkles, cardboard boxes, glue, small pack of crayons, children’s scissors and a children’s book. The books were donated by the Fun Palace Co-ordinator at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield and a local business loaned the use of their truck to help with deliveries. The packs contain a realistic collection of items so the cost to the playground is manageable and also so every child can have their own pack, rather than having to share with siblings and causing squabbles, in perhaps already stressed households. 

So far, about 85 packs have been given out; most delivered by hand with some being posted out to children who live further afield. There has been a very positive response to the play packs; parents and children eagerly awaiting their play pack delivery, happy to see, from the safe distance of their doorsteps, playground staff doing the deliveries. In addition, there have been very appreciative messages posted on social media about the play packs. These packs will continue to be made, ever evolving to include different items whilst requests keep coming in via social media, telephone and word of mouth.

Sharing ideas

For those children and families with access to devices, social media, such as Facebook and Twitter have been used to share play ideas, challenges, advice and information including videos such as one made with Knottingley Adventure Playground about the importance of children staying home. In addition, the manager and the finance officer have given interviews about the importance of play during the covid-19 outbreak on local radio.

The playground is in regular contact with partner organisations such as the Council’s Community Response Team, voluntary organisations, other local community and faith groups, developing thinking strategically about how to better support children, young people, families and communities during this time. As a community hub, the playground has produced a leaflet detailing the most useful local and citywide support services, mainly pictorial so it can be understood by speakers of other languages, and with messages about staying indoors and keeping safe.

“the relational space is able to continue, just in different forms”.

The playground is listed on this as being able to help with shopping and with emergency food parcel referrals. The playground has been actively involved in supporting the local Food Bank’s move to a delivery service, using the playground’s minibus and helping to collect/buy food and assisting with successfully applying for funding.

The physical space of the playground may be currently closed to children and families; and the everyday, ordinary encounters, habits, and routines that co-produce the relational space have been disrupted. However, the relational space is able to continue, just in different forms.

Julia Sexton

Julia is a Senior Lecturer at the Sheffield Institute of Education and a trustee of Pitsmoor Adventure Playground. She is also a trustee of the Playwork Foundation.


Lester, S., Fitzpatrick, J. and Russell, W. (2014) ‘Co-creating an Adventure Playground (CAP): Reading playwork stories, practices and artefacts’, Available at: https://www.academia.edu/7020633/Lester_S._Fitzpatrick_J._and_Russell_W._2014_Cocreating_an_Adventure_Playground_reading_playwork_stories_practices_and_artefacts

Massey, D. (2005). For space. London: Sage Publications Ltd.

For more information about Pitsmoor Adventure Playground please visit: https://www.facebook.com/PitsmoorAdventures/

2 thoughts on “Rising to the Covid challenge

  1. donnebuck says:

    Our local Adventure Playground has operated in a deprived area since 1981. It is managed by a charity which has always struggled to attract sufficient funds to pay the level of staff demanded by OFSTED. So they have been forced to make substantial charges to parents many, of whom are on low incomes. So, although their children are the very ones that need it most, very few can even afford a sessional fee, so cannot benefit from all the advantages they would receive if they could come regularly, Now that the playground is closed for lockdown the playground’s future is very much in doubt, pouring scorn on the work of hundreds of dedicated volunteer committee members, volunteer and professional playworkers and leaving the children only the Covid 19 and traffic-torn streets, full of drug-dealers to play in outside the home. Unless the vital need of children for outdoor playspace jn safe conditions is acknowledged and funded, the future of our children outside the home will be no better in future than it was in Dickens time.

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