Last weekend I was lucky enough to be part of Beauty of Play conference in Stone, near Stoke-on-Trent. Its held in The Hayes, a gorgeous 18th Century house with surrounding woodland.
The journey was long and scary, being 22 and being with my partner nearly 8 years I have never had to drive on the motorway by myself – Lukes always done it! So I was very anxious about the suicidal drivers who weave and undertake and the lorries that think they’re a car and like to over take other just-as-slow lorries.

I received a warm welcome and was offered help with the tent, another experience – camping – never done alone before. The first evening was lovely, a warming veggie soup over candlelight and conversations about each other’s lives, experiences and frustrations. We as playworkers seem to repeat ourselves, not in an annoying stuck-record way, but a protesting, revolutionary way. We need things to change we say! Why is playwork still so understated, un-appreciated and even completely unknown of. Everyone knows who a teacher is, a midwife, even youth workers. But Playworkers are deeming to be a under-ground secret service of some sort… They know we exist sometimes but its a big deal in disguise of something else – health, education, housing, mental health, sports..!

This importance of channelling our work into other services such as mental health was one of the discussions held by Tori Wright from Play Right in Swansea, who was one of the speakers at the conference. She proposed the question of how do we communicate to those who may not have the same ‘lightbulb thinking’ about what we do in a language that can make it fully appreciated or understood in all circles of society. Many of us felt it was VITAL to discuss and record a day at work to ensure we are providing the best service for our children, encouraging the need for constant improvement and most importantly – to secure funding. With forms and briefings, evaluations and feedback from staff we are giving paper evidence to those that give us the wonga – proving we are doing a worthwhile job that we are taking seriously – just what we want from everyone else!
The talk took us onto discussions about how we can feed play into other children’s services, and all aspects of society that involves children. Which is, well, everything! Housing, anti-social behaviour, schooling, public space, recreational space, healthy eating, family support, benefits… If we could bring play into these aspects of the community then it would be more widely appreciated. Sad though isn’t it? We’re not saying play solves social, economic, health etc problems. But is helps and its what we need as a basis for the future development in all areas of life. So if we improve play services and remove the barriers such as adulterated environments and poverty, by providing good quality services to all children we are at least playing an essential part in the foundations of a better society.

This weekend involved an extraordinary campfire, fire-poi,  games in the dark, playing with air, smelling childhood memories, and many yummy meals to feed the brain. Which is what I needed before attending Joel Seath’s discussion on Epigenetics (sorry Joel I loved it really). We thought about how ‘prints’ can be made on our children’s genes which can possibly effect future generations. Best if you read this: http://playworkings.wordpress.com/2012/09/14/epigenetics-and-play.

The conference was asking what is the ‘essence’ of play? I believe this essence is a concoction of free spirit, unexpected moments, curiosity and stimulating the senses. But it can be what ever you want it to be. I was very sad to leave and the song sung by Perry Else’s daughter Millie brought a tear to my eye. I’d like to thank Perry and his team of Meynell Games guys, and everyone who made it magical. This is a permanent fixture in my diary for years to come me thinks.

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