So as I gather my thoughts from the last couple of days in Ireland, I realise the amount of Playwork we have seen yet its not been actually called ‘Playwork’. Ireland have Youth Workers, Early Year’s Practitioners, Play-Leaders, Rangers and even Street-Workers. So aspects of each of these roles seem to have the common ethos of supporting children and teenagers play and play games, reaching those that need that enriching, valuable play experiences. We visited three parks yesterday in Ballymun where there was a regeneration project in full swing. These parks were in disadvantaged areas, where there was new housing being built, and tower blocks being brought down and replaced with more modern, ‘sociable’ housing.

The project was run by Bryr Community Regeneration Project, that had impressively extended onto one centre called the Reco that before consisted of two small rooms and had been given multiple rooms, high-tech equipment for The Arts and IT, a lovely court yard that the teenagers and children could maintain themselves and ran daily open-access sessions, afterschool clubs and summer-schemes with various age-groups. The workers there were called Youth Workers, and ‘Reco-Rangers’ when out in the parks. They had a timetable that the local children knew, and they would turn up and bring along equipment to ‘spark’ some play. They would instantly start gathering teams and appointing sides, they’d not waste any time in getting games started. These games were adult-led, but as they progressed they became more fluid between the children and adults. They were able to flicker in and out of these ‘games’ meaning they had the choice between various activities and gatherings within the space that was occupied. This may be perceived by us as activity-based play, rather than child-led, but with the circumstances that these children were in- this was ideal. Our group discussed how these children may have much freedom in the sense that they were likely to come and go from their homes, or even neighbourhoods when they chose to, which was fantastic. But in another sense, their freedom may be sometimes hindered in that we know that children tend to feel more secure with an element of structure in their lives, so when the children knew that those ‘Yellow People’ (wearing bright yellow coats) were turning up exactly at 5.30pm on a Tuesday, they are in a structure that they may crave for at home. The staff were absolutely brilliant. They didn’t know the lingo, they shook their heads when you mentioned a play-term that we use on a daily basis, but heck yeah, they were so inspirational to those 3 to 21 (and above) year-old’s, who may be struggling to socialise in their local area because of fear of bullies and ridicule, of lack of resources close-by and through lack of adult-support. The issue of children’s freedom in England has become huge, with children 30 years ago being able to roam freely without their parents for miles, and today its just a few metres. The residents where the Ballymun kids lived, seemed suspicious when seeing us walking through their streets and parks, but when you’re chatting to the children, whether they’re 4 years or 18 years, they are fascinated with your accent (being Bristolian I must’ve sounded quite funny), your marital status, your reasons for being here, where your from is the most important, and they make you feel so welcome after a few introductions. (Below, is the first park we visited. The children had a nature-inspired playground, but there had been some issues with wild flowers, they were all taken away by the gardener so it was easier to maintain) – images from www.natureplay.ie

It was nice to see all the age-groups come together during the games that were taking place, we’re sat on a bench in the third park we had visited, watching a group of 4 to 14 year-olds playing football, all boys. We look around and theres a group of little girls and boys playing skipping with female staff, a group of older girls sat on the opposite end pushing eachother around all huddled together chatting and a group of older lads about 17 years leant against the wall outside the park. After around 2 minutes of watching the footie game, these older boys run into the match and tackle for the ball. The older girls edge in closer and park up their bikes on a step right next to the grass and the younger girls all start to disperse around the match, wandering between groups. The park, which is only a patch of grass with a bizarre white wall that runs through it that can be walked along, is now bustling with all age-groups. The Rangers had to disperse a couple of disagreements as they turned up, resulting in some boxing gloves being conviscated after a minute of arriving, and the male member of staff was so on the ball, he had the teams of charged-up boys ready and off they went. They had told us that because the children are waiting for their arrival, the excitement is so intense and can get nasty at the start, so they are very quick to not waste any time!

The presence of these adults is a positive, liberating phenonemen. For some settings at home in England, if very child-led, then the playworkers will mostly support the play as it happens and be there for when the children require them, but for these kids in these parks and the estates – the children have the benefit of ‘freedom’ – but not the support. I joined in a game of Sheeps and Wolves, they were very competitive and strong children, both boys and girls. They radiated confidence and were determined that they weren’t going to get caught by the silly wolves. One boy would look right at me in the eye and would charge dodging the adults like a whippet running for his life. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the interaction between the adults and the children and it was a positive process that there was this sort of intervention taking place. Ireland are making fantastic progress in the recent years with play, despite economic and political difficulties, and even though its not referred to as a Play Sector as such, it still is play and its working brilliantly. Projects like the Bryre Regeneration have started off something huge that can make way for projects alike in the rest of the country. I seen so much play being generated within those few hours we spent in the three parks – even though one 3 year-old park had been completely ruined and all there was left was a patch of grass that needed clearing of glass every session – it was still a brilliant hour and-a-half for those that filtered through gradually into the space creating a energetic concoction full of laughter and interaction.

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