Playwork in the North East steps up to the Covid challenge

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Jackie Boldon, a new trustee of the Playwork Foundation, describes some of the different ways that organisations in the North East have responded to children’s need and right to play in Newcastle and North Tyneside:

Elswick Lamp Post Play Project

Playworkers from Play in Newcastle ran multiple projects across Newcastle in different school and community venues this summer, funded by the Department of Education’s Fit and Fed initiative through Street Games. In Elswick, the Play in Newcastle playworkers ran an estate based “Lamp Post Play Project”, with games, creative activities, dance and challenges over 7 Wednesdays of the summer holidays. On week one, the playworkers were shocked by the huge amounts of litter and fly-tipping which was seen as a barrier to children’s outdoor play. With a bit of pressure, the Council carried out a “clean up”, which was greatly appreciated by all residents and enabled children living on the estate to play safely outdoors every day. All the children who engaged with the Lamp Post Play project received a backpack with activity cards and play resources to provide them with new play ideas over the summer. (These can be found here)

The children had great fun and parents and grandparents were very appreciative of the Lamp Post Play Project.  The playworkers have been asked to set up a year-round kids club. The project was supported by Hawthorn School, West End Schools Trust, Sussed and Able and the West End Children’s Community.

YMCA Lamp Post Play Project

A second Lamp Post Play Project was run by the YMCA in North Tyneside. With BBC Children in Need funding, children who would have attended a school-based after school and holiday club were offered creative play activities on their doorstep. Children were desperate for someone new to talk to and to support their play and parents were very grateful for the respite. The scheme ran for 4 weeks.

As soon as World War Two broke out,  YMCAs developed mobile canteens to bring refreshments to the troops. In the same spirit, YMCA North Tyneside is now doing its bit to help bring a little joy to children’s lives during the Covid 19 crisis. During the lockdown, many children have been confined to their homes and denied access to their friends. Even now, it is still difficult for many organisations to open their doors to children to enable them to meet and play.  So, in order to combat this, YMCA North Tyneside, funded by Children in Need and inspired by Jackie Bolden has decided to take their play provision to the children’s door steps.   Adhering to social distancing requirements, YMCAs play workers, armed with their box of tricks,  present themselves at door steps.  They then engage children in a range of fun and creative activities. After an hour or so, they then move on to another door step and so on. 

‘The response  has been fantastic. The children have loved the activities on their doorsteps and it has been heartening to hear them talk about their lock down experiences. Equally, parents have welcomed the play workers presence and have urged them to return’

— Don Irving, Youth and Play Manager YMCA North Tyneside.

‘The doorstep sessions that the YMCA have been running are  amazing. The children always look forward to Carlie and Demi from the YMCA arriving.  My children are so proud of the various things they make and cant wait to the next time the workers come back.  (Mr Roy Oliver…parent)

A comment from one of the children from another family referring to the YMCA workers: –

‘We have interesting chats and they listen to my feelings. They make us laugh and cheer us up…its great

(Sophie aged 10)

Another parent;-  Leigh Johnson says ‘ My children really looked forward to the YMCA workers coming to see the girls. They sit at the bottom of the front garden and take part in the activities. As well as the company, they chat about the lockdown period and what it has meant to them’ 

Benwell Playful Lives Project – Newcastle

Children in the Benwell area of Newcastle have been supported by a team of playworkers from the regional charity – Children North East to play outside their own homes over the summer, in family bubbles for 45 minute long free play session. Some children benefitted from as many as 6 sessions over 4 weeks of the school holidays. The children and parents had great fun inventing imaginary games and engaging in all types of play. This pilot project was supported by the Extended Schools Officer from Bridgewater School who coordinated the referral process and was funded  through Street Games by the Department of Education. Jackie Boldon from Sussed and Able provided playwork training and advice. See the full story here

The Power of Playful Lives

Three-year-old Lyla is waiting in anticipation for our Playful Lives project workers, Lorna and Paula and student social worker, Lauren, to turn up.

It’s an overcast day but this hasn’t dampened anyone’s enthusiasm. As soon as the team walk through the garden gate, Lyla and her two brothers, Joseph, six and Thomas, five, run up to them shouting suggestions of what to play first. 

The boys can’t wait to play tag whilst Lyla, full of bounce, heads for the trampoline with Lauren, It’s a welcome break for their mam, Lisa, who admits she finds keeping three children under six entertained 24/7 a bit of a stretch.

“Playful Lives has been great because the children have had no interaction with anyone other than me,” says Lisa, who is a teaching assistant at a local school.

I love them and they love me but they must be sick of me by now! Just the fact that there’s three extra pairs of hands here today – even for just half an hour to an hour – it’s brilliant.

The family has been shielding since March and the start of the Coronavirus lockdown due to Joseph’s asthma. “We’ve actually only been out three times since the 17 March,” Lisa says.

The last time the Playful Lives team was here, they used old cardboard boxes to make a pirate ship with the children. This session has a loose theme of ‘physical play’ so it’s running round the garden playing tag and hide and seek.

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Playful Lives is a new Children North East project and part of Newcastle City Council’s Best Summer Ever, a holiday activity scheme aimed at supporting the city’s five to 18-year-olds during the school holidays. 
Our charity is working closely with the West End Schools Trust, a charitable educational trust formed by eight primary schools, and other partners to create a multi-agency Children’s Community in this part of the city. There’ll also be an ongoing research element to the work overseen by Newcastle University. Schools like Bridgewater Primary have recommended families who feel they could benefit from the Playful Lives project to engage with our team.

Andrew and Shirley’s family have also enjoyed the project. They have two daughters, Maddison, who’s nine and Tamzin, ten. “This has kept the kids really entertained and they look forward to them coming,” Shirley says.

On the day we visit, it’s tanking down with rain so Andrew has put up a big family tent on ground next to their house. Tamzin, who is being assessed for an attention deficit disorder, loves messy play so Lorna suggests making ‘mud paint’ and Tamzin gets set digging a hole. “We like to demonstrate that it doesn’t have to cost lots of money to keep children occupied and engaged,” Lorna explains.

Whilst Maddison experiments with coloured painting inside the tent, Tamzin makes mud handprints before persuading mam to have her hands and face painted – with mud! 

Andrew stands by enjoying the spectacle. “I was into everything like this when I was young – mud fights and making dens with cut grass. The street was full of kids. I don’t think kids get the chance to use their imagination so much any more because they’re so used to the electronic age. So things like Playful Lives is great with people like yourselves coming out and showing that they can get involved.”

Playful Lives worker, Paula, who, along with other Playful Lives staff, benefited from training with a freelance playwork specialist, Jackie Boldon, says the project has been a big hit with families this summer. 

Playful Lives has given children the opportunity to engage in different activities together as a family whilst having fun in a safe environment. The interaction with different people – our team members – has had a positive effect on helping the children with their transition back to school and it has decreased isolation for the families by giving them something to look forward to outside of the family home.

Jackie Boldon

* For more information about Playful Lives please contact the team by email:

One thought on “Playwork in the North East steps up to the Covid challenge

  1. donnebuck says:

    These reports illustrate how agencies that are committed to providing for play as an essential part of children’s development can provide them with a play service in challenging conditions. Jackie Boldon has used her long experience well in developing this impressive play programme in Covid 19 conditions. I hope that her work is widely recognised.

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