Wales’ adventure playgrounds take playwork to their communities in lockdown

Playworker Sîon Edwards describes how the adventure playgrounds in Wales are responding to the Covid-19 crisis with their customary playfulness and innovation.

All four playgrounds in Wales are in the northeast, with three in Wrexham and one in Rhyl. Fortunately, this close proximity means I’m able to give a bit of an update on the majority (with the exception of our friends on the north coast). In short, like all other playgrounds in Wales (adventure or otherwise) … they’re closed! However, we have been doing different things to keep in touch with our communities and stay playful.

Food distribution

At The Venture, we initially responded by providing food packages. This was spurred on by the fact that only around 10% of daily Free School Meals (FSM) were being collected from local estate offices, likely due to a fear of going to a central collection point. Our desire was to emulate the success of the Welsh Government ‘Holiday Hunger Playwork Pilot’, where a FSM alternative is distributed through play provision, indiscriminately (i.e. irrespective of eligibility for FSM) during school holidays.

A consortium of local community organisations was quickly established and a small number of volunteers engaged to prepare and distribute food packages that could last a number of days, rather than daily (whilst of course maintaining social-distancing). Eventually, Wrexham County Borough Council (WCBC) moved to a direct payment system (equivalent to £19.50 per week) and the food distribution had to be ceased due to mounting costs.

“So far, I’ve had my own disco in the living room, practiced handstands, made a hammock, built a den, made collages, and played bowling with my empty Actimel bottles!”

On the more playful side, we’ve been going live for ‘Amser Story’ (storytime) in the early evening and producing a daily ‘On This Day’ (OTD) video. OTD features historic facts related to each day, to complement independent home-learning but also, more importantly, to provide a platform to share information with and from the local community.

Improvised bowling using old Actimel cartons

One key feature of OTD has been the ‘Playful Timetable’ from the WCBC Play & Youth Support Team which gives playful activity ideas that can be child-led, both indoors and outdoors. To name a few, so far, I’ve had my own disco in the living room, practiced handstands, made a hammock, built a den, made collages, and played bowling with my empty Actimel bottles!

Just over the field on the Caia Park estate, at Gwenfro Valley Adventure Playground, the steering group of volunteer community members have been meeting during lockdown via Facebook Messenger and focussing on fundraising via social media.

The ‘kiddo lounger’.

Further south, in the village of Plas Madoc, The Land is closed but playworkers there have been coming up with ways of encouraging children outside at home. Using reclaimed wood from local businesses, the playworkers are building bespoke benches, with designs inspired by the individuals who will eventually use them. Their latest design is the ‘Kiddo Lounger’!

“The planters mean they can bring a little bit of The Land into their own back garden”

They’ve also been creating trough planters, to encourage interaction with the natural world. On The Land, children will play with the elements: digging, gardening, and eating herbs and strawberries that have been grown on-site. The planters mean they can bring a little bit of The Land into their own back garden, bring a sense of competence and pride whilst also providing an opportunity to relax in the fresh air. 

Recharging the batteries

Personally, I’ve found great comfort in the frequent online meetings with the Playwork Foundation. I’ve found, like the UK conference in Eastbourne, the meetings recharge my playworker batteries during a time when I easily feel disconnected and unable to do that thing that is hard to pin down in words, known as playwork.

Fellow trustee, Penny, has also been hosting weekly reflective sessions via Zoom which has been a great source of support and inspiration! You can get in the loop by searching for the Facebook Page ‘Play For Today’. I’ve yet to join “The Playworkers Lockdown Party 2020”, live on Facebook, but one of these nights I hope to join in – from what I’ve seen it’s certainly something that is likely to be talked about for years to come (Wendy’s glasses come to mind!).

Meynell TV is also a welcome innovation, to combat the Netflix dominance, which you can find on YouTube by searching for “Meynell Games”, while the annual Eastbourne get-together has been reimagined as 8 Weeks of Conference.

Whilst the countries of the UK diverge in terms of lockdown easing, the one thing the nation of playworkers can be sure of is that is not going to be “business as usual” for quite some time, and I would hazard a guess that the key to unlocking our play spaces will be innovation. I look forward to seeing what you come up with!

Cofion gynnes o’r Gymru | Warm regards

Sîon Edwards

Sîon is a playworker at the Venture in Wrexham, and a trustee of the Playwork Foundation

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