Ali Wood, a trustee of Meriden Adventure Playground in the West Midlands, describes how the lockdown has affected the service, and how the playground has become part of the wider community response.
Meriden Adventure Playground is currently closed, as are other adventure playgrounds. We have furloughed most of our staff and been talking with funders about how their funding could still be used at the end of all this. The couple of staff members who are still working have been hard at it, updating policies and procedures, doing site maintenance and admin and updating the website. They are also staying in touch with children, young people and families via Facebook, Instagram or phone, with useful information, regular play challenges, and activity ideas.
We have managed to acquire some emergency funding and so have joined forces with the local food bank; making up play packs to give away at the same time as giving out food deliveries to those families with either no or very little income, who have fallen through the cracks (and there are many around here). We are also able to give out free condoms to those who request them. Our play packs are not ‘activity’ packs as such (although they include paints, chalks, glue, card, and paper, etc. and ideas for activities and games) and they include a letter to parents on supporting play from the child’s perspective, and using loose parts naturally available at home or included in the packs.
We have been negotiating with the Council (which owns our land) to see if we can open the playground a few days a week so that families referred to us via schools or Children’s Services as really struggling, (no outdoor space themselves, cramped home conditions, children with specific needs, etc.) can come in, one family at a time, for a prearranged hour.
Senior members of the Council have seriously thought about the idea of us opening for one family at a time, but have decided that, currently, it would be giving out the wrong messages to the public – especially as we are situated within an actual park and so are very visible to everyone visiting the park; police have already been needing to monitor those using the park, as social distancing is often not being practised.
However, we have agreed that as restrictions ease, we want to be at the forefront of the response, and help to pick up the pieces. To that end, we will be talking again with senior officers in two weeks’ time to see if this response can change. In the meantime, we have been allowing two or three parent volunteers at a time to do on-site maintenance work (whilst insisting on distancing!), as it gives them respite from all being in the house together – and makes them more able to cope when they return home.
photo: Meriden Adventure Playground