Sharing memories of ‘endangered’ adventure playgrounds

The University of Gloucestershire has launched the report, and a short film, of its Sharing Memories of Adventure Playgrounds (SMAP) research project. The project worked with adventure playgrounds in the cities of Bristol and Gloucester to gather memories of those involved – as children, staff, families and communities – over their history, in order to explore their value; but the project also shines a spotlight on the decline in the number of UK adventure playgrounds, and their ongoing insecurity.

Adventure playgrounds are a specific form of play provision generally catering for children aged 5-15 years of age, with local variations. Their received history tells how they were first introduced into the UK in the late 1940s by Lady Allen of Hurtwood after her visit to the junk playground in Emdrup, Copenhagen. These facilities sprung up in urban spaces left by wartime bombs, using waste materials, tools and the permissive supervision of a playworker to create spaces where children could build play structures, make dens, use tools, have fires and generally engage in outdoor play. Largely developed and run by voluntary organisations, such seemingly anarchic and chaotic spaces were welcomed by the authorities as an effective response to the rise in delinquency amongst working-class boys.

Over the last 70 or so years, these playgrounds have had a chequered history. At times adventure playgrounds have been well funded because of their perceived social and economic benefits (instrumental value), at others less so. Alongside this, the ethos and practices of adventure playgrounds in the UK have both affected and been affected by the zeitgeist, theory and social policy paradigms. From an estimated 500 in operation across the UK in the 1970s, their decline to less than 150 today (many of which no longer operate wholeheartedly according to the original principles) has been attributed to a number of socio-legal changes, including the Health and Safety at Work Act 1975, the Children Act 1989, the introduction of out of school childcare and now unprecedented public expenditure cuts.

‘Critical cartography’

This trans-disciplinary project held events at each of the playgrounds and recorded these using video, audio and the work of artists. It was funded by both the Being Human and Sport, Exercise, Health and Wellbeing Research Priority Areas at the University of Gloucestershire. It drew on concepts from post-qualitative research methodologies, memory studies, geography, philosophy and policy. It aimed to develop a ‘critical cartography’ as a different way of articulating the value of adventure playgrounds that can be used to inform future policy.

There is plenty of evidence showing the benefits of play for children, but less showing the benefits of play provision. What does exist tends to show the instrumental value of adventure playgrounds and playwork in terms of its capacity to address social policy concerns such as reducing physical inactivity and obesity, crime reduction, or community cohesion. These are important, and at the same time the desire to show measurable benefits in this way obscures other ways of expressing value. The creative methods we used looked to show how much these spaces mattered to those involved.

“Adventure playgrounds are an endangered species”

Dr. Wendy Russell

At the launch of the SMAP project, with an exhibition at the University’s Oxstalls campus on 27 January, the Mayor of Gloucester, Councillor Neil Hampson highlighted the huge value of the city’s adventure playgrounds to successive generations of local communities and decried the austerity policies that was placing them at risk. Dr. Wendy Russell, for the research team, said they were an ‘endangered species’, which needed to be documented while they were still in existence.

Adrian Voce

Illustration: Mick Conway (from original artwork produced for the project)
Photo: Bristol Daily News

As well as the exhibition, the project has produced a film, which can be viewed here and a short report, available here. If you would like to host the exhibition, please contact the research team at



Playwork ‘Campference’ announced in California for Feb. 2017

(Reblogged from Pop-Up Adventure Play)

The UK based Pop-up Adventure Play is teaming up with Santa Clarita Valley Adventure Play to host a first time Playwork Campference in Val Verde, CA 16-19 February 2017.

The Campference will headline Professor Fraser Brown, Head of Playwork at Leeds Beckett University’s School of Health & Community Studies, Erin Davis, Director of the documentary “The Land”, and Jill Wood, founder of “AP” adventure playground in Houston, TX.  Campference programming will also include a variety of hands on workshops, keynote Q&As, a screening of “The Land”, discussions and activities surrounding playwork theory and practice with National and International playworkers, and more. Early bird registration ends 2 October 2016, overall registration ends 16 October 2017. Participants also have the option to camp on site at the Eureka Villa Adventure Playground slated to be the seventh in the US.

Playwork involves in depth knowledge of play psychology, play “cues”, and risk benefit assessment. Playworkers traditionally work on Adventure Playgrounds where they make sure the children stay safe but do not inhibit the play in any way. However, playwork concepts may be applied to a variety of instances whether working with kids or adults in formal (i.e. educational or structured) or informal private, public or domestic settings. Adventure Playgrounds have been commonplace throughout Europe since World War II and are seeing a resurgence in the US.

The new wave of adventure play has been covered by various news sources including the New York Times, Atlas Obscura and The Atlantic.   The playwork campference will facilitate an international conversation between diverse individuals ranging from decades and degrees in playwork to those brand new to it.  “I’m very excited about coming and meeting all the people who will be at the Campference. … It’s going to be an opportunity to do stimulating work to get the whole idea of playwork going.. to give it a base level to work out from” said Professor Brown.  Regarding the state of play in America, he believes, “it’s very timely right now… things are beginning to develop. Right now I have three American based students doing post-graduate work with us.” Professor Brown has written numerous books on the benefits of playwork including his experiences doing therapeutic playwork with children in orphanages in Romania and Transylvania.

Erica Larsen-Dockray, co-founder of Santa Clarita Valley Adventure Play remarks about the Campference, “We could not be more delighted to host such a unique and necessary event here in Southern California.  Playwork concepts reaffirm two very important elements which I feel are lacking in the US.  One is kids being allowed more self-directed time in their days and second is adults supporting and trusting kids to take risks and practice independence.  Culturally we have forgotten how to let kids just play on their own terms as well as embrace play in our adult lives.”

Suzanna Law, Co-Founder of Pop-up Adventure Play and current Leeds Playwork Phd candidate says, “This is something of momentous occasion for me because we have been working so hard at Pop-up Adventure play to bring playwork ideas to people across the US and hopefully better play opportunities for children as a consequence. A child has a right to play, but in order to play they also need to feel safe and in an environment where they are supported.  They have a right to believe and to direct everything that is in their own lives and in the US this may be taken for granted and we need to know now in order to support play we need to support the whole child.”

Pop-up Adventure play was founded in 2010 by Suzanna Law and Morgan Leichter-Saxby and aims to help make a children’s right to play a reality in every neighborhood by disseminating playwork principles to a range of audiences.  Operating primarily in the US and UK, they provide long-distance and in-person support to play advocates in seventeen countries and recently completed a world lecture tour.

Santa Clarita Valley Adventure Play was founded by Jeremiah Dockray and Erica Larsen-Dockray in 2014 after Jeremiah began the playwork course.  While working on a course assignment he came across an abandoned 2 acre park which is now the developing home of Eureka Villa Adventure Playground.  It will be the only adventure playground in Los Angeles County.

Aside from the park’s development, they have held numerous pop-up adventure playgrounds all over Los Angeles County for private and public events.  For more information on them please visit

Anyone interested in attending or registering can visit the Campference information page at:

Early bird registration ending on 10/2/2016 is $375 for campers and $300 for non-campers.  Regular registration ending on 1/16/2017 is $475 for campers and $400 for non-campers.  Camping rates include meals, snacks, and basic camping equipment if needed.  Financial aid may be available on a first come basis.


Morgan Leichter-Saxby, Co-Founder Pop-Up Adventure Play

Jeremiah Dockray, Co-Owner Santa Clarita Valley Adventure Play

Check out the whole press release here.

Play Wales calls for sector response to proposed changes to playwork qualifications

The national body, Play Wales is calling for a strong response from the playwork sector to proposed new qualifications in Health and Social Care, which includes playwork.

Qualifications Wales, which published its review of the qualifications framework in July, is proposing to restrict the number of qualifications approved for funded training programmes in Wales, a move that would, according to Play Wales, weaken playwork training.

Play Wales isconcerned that … the Playwork Principles would be diluted by incorporation into a single suite of qualifications’.

In its draft response to the proposals Play Wales states that the proposed changes will ‘impact negatively on the current strategic direction in which playwork qualifications are being developed’. The draft response goes on to say that Play Wales is ‘concerned that the underpinning ethos of the National Occupational Standards (NOS), namely the Playwork Principles, would be diluted by incorporation into a single suite of qualifications’.

Play Wales believes that whatever decision is taken in Wales ‘could, in the longer term, have an impact on the playwork sector throughout the UK’ and urges the playwork community to respond.

Play Wales’ draft consultation response can be read here and the organisation welcomes comments, to help inform its final response, by email to by 28th September 2016.

Play Wales has also invited others to use its draft and final response, when published, as a basis for submitting their own response to the Qualifications Wales consultation, which closes at 6.00pm on 5th October 2016.


Playwork union conference to include talk on Playwork Foundation

A one day conference in Eastbourne on 19 November, hosted by Community, Youth and Play Workers in Unite  will feature a discussion about the emerging Playwork Foundation led  by Adrian Voce of the new body’s steering group, under the heading ‘Do we need a professional identity and if so how do we develop it?’.

Under the theme of ‘identifying risk and building resilience‘ the conference will ‘offer a range of seminars, expert panels and workshops facilitated and delivered by key professionals in the field, and the wider youth and play sector, that will identify, explore and offer new insight into some of the more complex and challenging issues that professionals and the children and young people that they work with face. The event will provide delegates with an excellent opportunity to discuss and debate the key issues and challenges faced in delivering a high quality service that provides children and young people with the best possible start in life’.

For full details please visit the conference homepage here


Thousands of children expected for Playday 2016

Tomorrow, 3 August, tens of thousands of children and young people from across the United Kingdom will be out playing, celebrating Playday – the national day for play, when hundreds of local and regional play events are taking place to promote the importance of children’s right to play.

This year’s Playday theme, ‘Play Matters…’ celebrates the many benefits of outdoor play: climbing trees, making dens, jumping in puddles, making mud pies, rolling down hills, playing with water, chasing, hide and seek, climbing.

Playday national coordinators, Play England, Play Scotland, Play Wales and PlayBoard Northern Ireland issued a statement, saying:

“It will be no surprise to learn that when children talk about their preferred play experiences, they more often than not cite outdoor play as their favourite activity. This makes sense; the outdoors is the very best place for children to practice and master emerging physical skills. Frequent and regular opportunities to explore and play in the outdoor environment are essential for children’s … well-being, health, happiness, learning and development”.

To mark this year’s Playday, publishers Routledge, part of the Taylor and Francis Group, have made a selection of play-related academic papers and articles available free of charge for the duration of August. Visit their site here to view the selection.


About Playday

Playday was originated by a small group of playworkers in London in 1986 as a response to threatened cuts and closures to adventure playgrounds and play schemes (Plus ca change!)

It has become the national day to celebrate children’s play in the UK, traditionally held on the first Wednesday of August. As well as a coordinated annual event, Playday continues to be part of the campaign to highlight the importance of play in children’s lives and their right for this to be provided for within the public realm.

For more information see

Follow #Playday2016 on Twitter

or visit the Playday Facebook page

Hackney Play Association seeks new Play Development & Training Manager

Details at the link below:

Recruitment: Play Development & Training Manager

Steering group plans take shape

The steering group for the new Playwork Foundation has met for a two-day residential workshop to develop its plans and resolve outstanding administrative issues associated with the organisation’s imminent launch.

The meeting, on 5-6 July, made substantial progress towards establishing the body as a new charitable organisation, and on its first programme of work. The steering group also reaffirmed its commitment to engage with other national play organisations to explore potential collaborations, ensure the foundation’s work is complementary to existing activity and avoid possible duplication.

More details of the Foundation’s plans will be published soon on this site.

Adventure playground to open in the heart of New York City

An adventure playground will open in the heart of New York City this May. play:ground, a local voluntary organisation will open a 5,000 square foot play space on Governors Island where children can imagine a world of their own making and experience self-directed play. Modelled after the original junk playgrounds, the adventure playground will let children shape their environment using an assortment of materials, tools, water, dirt, and up-cycled ‘junk’.


Photo: play:ground

At the Governors Island adventure playground, instead of shiny metal slides or swings, children might build their own forts from wood pallets and hay bales, they might manage a see-saw out of planks of wood, or a trampoline from old tyres that lands them in a pile of mud. All this happens under the watchful eyes of trained playworkers – staff who are on hand to provide assistance when requested, but otherwise stand back and let the children take the lead.

In a news release, play:ground said:

‘Today in New York, young people experience a tightly managed urban landscape, with rare access to spaces belonging entirely to them. Where are kids free to self-organize, or independently create from their imaginations? play:ground encourages a sense of freedom and permissiveness not found in most of the city’.

“I feel free at adventure playgrounds. You’re the one who builds the playground.”
– Oliver, 7.

Reilly Wilson, co-founder of play:ground and PhD candidate/NSF Graduate Research Fellow in Environmental Psychology at The Graduate Centre of the CUNY said:

“You can’t go to your normal neighbourhood playground and start tying stuff onto the playground structure, or start drawing on things with markers. You definitely can’t start nailing things to the playground structure”.

In addition to free public hours, play:ground will offer summer camps and school visits. Beyond the space on Governor’s Island, play:ground will continue providing local outreach through its on-going initiative — play:ground in the park.

Based on the Pop-Up Adventure Play model, play:ground in the park brings loose parts (e.g. boxes, fabric, found objects, art materials) to parks around the city, installing temporary play spaces for all.

play:ground launched its $25,000 kick-starter campaign with a deadline of March 30th, to help cover the starting costs including materials, fencing, and playworker staffing for Spring/Summer 2016.

‘For playwork, playworkers and play’.

Steering group announces new vehicle for playwork will soon be open for business.

transparent background logo

The steering group formed to develop plans for a new representative vehicle for playwork has agreed a name and a legal structure for the new body: The Playwork Foundation, and is applying for it to be registered as a new charity.

The proposed objects, part of the constitution of the new body, will be:

‘To advance and promote education, for the public benefit, in children’s play and playwork, in particular but not exclusively by: providing information; raising awareness; facilitating discourse; carrying out research; and building capacity’ within the field of playwork’.

The new playwork foundation is almost ready to launch. Photo: Meriden Adventure Playground

The new playwork foundation is almost ready to launch. Photo: Meriden Adventure Playground

The steering group said that it expects the new body’s trustees to be guided by its founding aims and principles, which were developed through a series of open meetings and mailings from 2013-15. The idea of a new body was raised at a summit meeting in Sheffield, called by Bob Hughes and the late Perry Else to discuss the future of playwork and how it could better make its case.

A survey of the playwork field in 2014-15 found that more than 94 per cent of those responding welcomed the idea of a new vehicle for playwork, and said that representing playworkers, raising the profile of playwork and campaigning for playwork services should be its top priorities.

In an email to prospective members, the steering group said it expected the foundation’s activities to be initially “modest” but that it will, nevertheless, “be open for business” once Charity Commission registration is complete. It intends to “engage fully in the national discussions and debates that are most relevant to our field –offering a platform for the playwork community to do the same”.

The steering group presented its plans at the national Playwork Conference in Eastbourne in March 2016 and wants to encourage the playwork community to get involved and make use of the new vehicle.

The Playwork Foundation Steering Group is:

Simon Bazley
Karen Benjamin
Jeff Hill
Barbara McIlwrath
Simon Rix
Adrian Voce
Debbie Willett
Ali Wood

For further information about joining the Playwork Foundation please click here