Wednesday, 2 October 2019

Pop-Up Play Shop in Radcliffe

By Pop-Ups Zan

Sitting at a tiny desk in the middle of a swelteringly hot day in Hong Kong, I stared at an email that had just popped through. I am working in Asia, and my brain is discombobulated from many layers of bilingual conversation, so upon reading this email, I wasn't sure I was understanding what I was seeing even though all the necessary words were in there. This included dates, the word "tenancy" and "storage", and something about the council, all signed off by the words "hope this all sounds okay".

Quite honestly, it wasn't 100% clear, but then reading in between the lines, it suddenly dawned on me: David from The Met was asking me if I would take over a local empty shop for specific dates in the Summer. I'm pretty sure I stopped breathing for a second.

Working in my own community started when I received funding from the Co-op Local Community Fund at the tail end of 2017. My 2018 was a blur of pop-up adventure playgrounds, joyfully attended and supported by the local community who clearly wanted more. As the funding ran out in December 2018, I wondered what would become of all that work, all that networking, and all the connections I had made with the children of North Manchester. Would it end up just fizzling out? Would this be it?

My training and experience in the playwork field gives me a little shake every so often. "Trust in the process", it whispers as I steady myself again. A Pop-Up Play Shop isn't something brand new to us - we opened our first one in Cardiff and then wrote a toolkit. We know that working with the community from the ground up is hard - we've done it before and will keep doing it everywhere we go, even if it is difficult. We know that play is important, for the individual and the community - it says so in the Playwork Principles!

From the moment I stepped off the plane from HK, to the moment I opened the Pop-Up Play Shop doors for the first time was 9 days. During that time, I had acquired the keys, hoovered up what can only be estimated as a a few different species of spider, swept away maybe the equivalent of 100 people's worth of hair, been gifted some furniture, had the windows cleaned pro bono and moved my quirky collection of loose parts into this old hair salon. I was jet-lagged, but delighted: this is now a community space for play.

There were 4 sessions in the shop - the lease on the building was a short 2 months and due to the last minute nature of the whole venture, I could only commit to 4 dates. But what glorious 4 sessions they were!

There was a smoothie shop, a castle, a rocket, and several different robots. There was dancing, and singing, and laughing and negotiating. Babies sat in boxes, toddlers made homes in boxes, at one point an entire adult tried to get into a box and couldn't, much to the amusement of their kid. Adults told us stories about how they used to play, of how they used to freely explore materials and roam. At one point, two of the adults made their own game and were cheered on by a few of the children! Children told us stories, and took us on adventures, and served us drinks, and gave us presents, and wrote us love notes. Babies threw plastic balls at things and then collected them all back again only to throw them out once again. Teenagers also skulked in, and pretended not to play, but stayed for a lot longer than they intended to. Children weaved in and out of the space, making it their own and taking full ownership of it. This was their shop, and it filled me with delight that they thought so.

In the final session, one of the children cut a hole in a cushion and the whole shop filled with a poof of white stuffing. I smirked as the entire floor was covered in white fluff, and the children started screaming "it's snowing!". It was one of the hottest days of the year and I was tired but also really quite sad that I couldn't tell the kids when the Pop-Up Play Shop would next be opening. I quietly left all the snow in the shop and put up my "CLOSED" sign, and wondered if I would be back.

Fast forward two months to October and I have received another email. "I think we are in a position to reopen as soon as you are ready to go", says David from The Met. For the second time this year, I stopped breathing for a moment: I can't quite believe that the Pop-Up Play Shop might stand a chance of becoming a fixture in Radcliffe, providing children with opportunities to play in their own way for a little while longer. Time to fund-raise and get that hoover back out: those spiders can't take over the shop because I am back.

To find out more about Pop-Ups Zan's local projects, join the Just Play MCR facebook group. For all of our other adventures, check out the main facebook page, and if you have time, pop in to our newly revamped website on

Thursday, 18 July 2019

Reflections on Parenting and Playwork - Guest Writer

Our Playworker Development Course brings people together from all over the world to talk about playwork. Divya is from India. She joined the course in March 2019, with the intention of channelising her passion for play. We've invited her to reflect on her PDC journey so far.


By Divya Badami Rao

As a parent, my primary setting is my family, my home. My children are almost always in a state of play. They play with their heart and soul, filling the house at times with silence, at others noise, with calm, with chaos, with camaraderie, and even belligerence. Playwork has deepened the appreciation I have for the way my children play, and helped me accept the messier, nosier and even destructive forms that their play often takes. I understand that my children need the whole house to play, that it cannot be restricted to their room. I practice playwork when I play with them, and when I don’t. I practice playwork when I think through possible interventions, before I actually intervene. I practice playwork when I sometimes don’t know what to do when a situation of conflict arises. I practice playwork when I add to their possessions in a manner that intensifies and expands their universe of play. I practice playwork when I plan our vacations. I practice playwork when I think of them even when they are not actually around.

Playwork is not perfect, and nor is there such a thing as the perfect playworker, I suspect, much like there is no such thing as the perfect parent and parenting style, or teacher and teaching style. Yet, the intentional, mindful and contemplative nature of playwork paves the way for democratic, trustful and respectful parenting. New parents generally learn the value of play incrementally. Watching my first born grow from an infant to a toddler and then pre-schooler was really about watching him play, watching how it evolved, how it changed and grew in complexity. One baby later, understanding and adapting Playwork Principles to child raising led me to  what has become an important insight in the way that I understand and practice playwork: the difference between child-led and being child-friendly.

It is common to come across the term “child-friendly” as a parent. Apart from being code for minimal risk, or risk-free, it is an approach to the way education is delivered, or a term used to describe a space, such as a child-friendly hotel or playground. However,  I don’t recall having encountered the use of the term child-friendly in Playwork materials. The emphasis, instead, is on the term child-led. The distinction has struck me as crucial in acknowledging two things: one, that the child is his or her own being, not simply the extension of the people and influences on his or her life; and two, a child’s actions (read: play) has intrinsic worth to the child, which should not be questioned, judged or re-directed, except in exceptional circumstances.

Armed with the finer points of playwork wisdom being instilled within me by the Playworker Development Course, I provide my children with as much playtime as possible, encourage and support their very particular play needs and play narratives. As I allow myself to be led into their world of amusing, crazy, intelligent, imaginative, exploratory, adventurous, and risky play, I watch the wonders of play unfold their beautiful personalities and abilities with much contentment. Parenting with playwork is a pleasure.

We run regular cohorts of the Playworker Development Course - if you want to know more information about the course itself, check out the course link here. If you want to join our next cohort, email

Sunday, 19 May 2019

Four Pop-Ups in Five Days

By Zan

Quite without me realising, pop-up adventure playgrounds have becoming quite popular in my community. I am obviously delighted, but boy has it been busy! Here are some little reflections of some of those events this month:

1. Radcliffe Market 3rd May
The 4 of them did not know each other, but in that moment, they had become a team. They discussed, and stuck, and poked and assembled what they decided to be a Pop-Up Cinema, complete with screen and screen times. I was invited to a screening of Spiderman after which they decided the cinema needed air conditioning so they poked a bunch of holes into the roof of the box. And then the screenings continued.

2. Accrington Town Square 4th May 
The children of Accrington knew exactly what to do with all the loose parts at this pop-up adventure playground, even if the adults were a bit unsure. After a slow start, the site was bustling, and it was particularly interesting to have the festival going on in the background. It was funny that for the majority of the time, the children ignored the music - they were deep into their play and nothing much brought them out of their own adventures. Occasionally a catchy phrase in a song could take their attention - they would lift their heads briefly, sing along, and then dive right back into play.

3. Manchester Monastery 6th May 
There was an urgency from the children in this play space: they had limited time and wanted to do everything. So the play was intense and focused, and there were a few little meltdowns. Understandable really - the rhythmic beats that echoed through the hall gave a feeling of great excitement but almost counted down to the event's end even before it had began. The children played hard, and you could see the spark of joy in their eyes, that would hopefully keep on blazing brightly at home.

 4. Radcliffe Boys and Girls Club 7th May
"I am a box troll" he said from within the box. He poked his head out and grinned: he was so pleased with this creation. The rest of the kids in the space were busy doing their own things: there was a Girls Club, a car, an intricately made boat, and a house, a Boys Only Club, and then a dancing robot. And then a buzz of activity flattened most things until there was only a boat left. There were protective tears over the boat that meant that it's cardboard was reinforced with pure grit and determination, and then the session ended. The boat walked home.

Pop-Ups Zan has been working in her community to provide free play opportunities for children. If you are based in Manchester and would like to find out more, check in with this facebook group.

Wednesday, 24 April 2019

Just Play MCR - play opportunities this May

By Zan

It's been a while since I have written about my community pop-ups. The 19 Pop-Ups that we managed to host in 2018 were a real hit, so there has been a lot of anticipation for what 2019 will bring!

So as not to inundate non-Manchester folk with local play opportunities, I have set up a Facebook group called Just Play MCR by Pop-Up Adventure Play where dates of the local pop-ups, and their associated links and reminders are all posted up. There are over 40 people in this group now and if you're local to Manchester, you are welcome to join!

There are a number of events coming up in the first week of May that we thought we'd list and clarify. It's been a bit confusing even for us because all the dates are so close together, so here it is, laid out simply:

  • 3rd May 2019, 5pm-7:30pm @ Radcliffe Market as part of Friday Food Night. Come and play until the street lights come on, and then play some more! Please take note that the play location is outside unless it's raining.
  • 4th May 2019, 11am-4pm @ Amazing Accrington Live Music Festival. Okay, so it's not quite Manchester, but we are the official charity for this event and hope to draw a lot of attention to the cause. Location within the festival to be confirmed so bring outdoor clothes anyway. Check out the press release here.
  • 6th May 2019, 2pm-4pm @ The Monastery as part of Happy Sundaze. This is a paid event, but we're excited anyway as we're the official charity. Come along and join us as we play in the courtyard of this beautiful setting. Check out the interview I did with them here.
  • 7th May 2019, 6pm-8pm @ Radcliffe Boys and Girls Club. If you're local to Radcliffe and have been meaning to come to the Radcliffe Boys and Girls Club with your kids, pop on down and see us - Pop-Ups Zan is exploring a new relationship with these folks in hopes for more exciting plans to come! The Boys and Girls club is for children between the ages of 8-12 and will be indoors.
Wowee, I'm a little humbled and maybe a little overwhelmed too with all these events, but really hope that loads of children can benefit from these open-ended play opportunities! It's going to be hard work, but with some support from my family, the local community, and from the rest of the Team Pop-Ups, I know that it's going to be awesome, and so very much worth it. I'm going to be working with a growing team of volunteers to make this work for the children of Manchester and beyond - if you'd like to be part of this team, get in touch! 

We look forward to meeting you all there - #LetsPlay!

A photo from the first Pop-Up of 2019 which was held in March at Radcliffe Market Hall.

Want to hear more from us? Join us over on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. For updates specifically from Manchester, join the Just Play MCR by Pop-Up Adventure Play's Facebook group here.

Tuesday, 2 April 2019

Playwork Campference 2019 - "...the epitome of what playwork strives for..." - Guest Writer

In the months leading up to Campference, we often found ourselves in deep email correspondence with folks who want desperately to attend but aren't sure how. We want to help however we can, whether that's talking through dietary restrictions or childcare, providing travel info or discussing work-trade options.  By the time they arrive, nervous and excited to make their name tag (with a strip of sparkly duct tape and a Sharpie) to easy to feel like we're already friends.  

That feeling deepens through spending several days together, as we observe their experiences of making friends, meeting new ideas, and challenging themselves to grow in all sorts of ways. This reflection shows what an incredible honor this work can be. A big thank you to Katelyn Horn of Play-MO for writing this beautiful piece.


By Katelyn Horn

I was asked to write about my experience of the 2019 Playwork Campference, held this past February in Houston Texas. As with many things that involve strong emotional experiences, it is difficult for me put my little adventure last month into words. I wish I could weave a narrative that conveys the complexity of my thoughts and feelings but I don’t know how to do this in the space given. So instead, I will describe select scenes from our weekend and leave you to imagine the story of emotion that runs through.


4am Friday February 15th at a rest-stop just outside of Little Rock Arkansas, halfway between St.Louis Missouri and Houston Texas:
I lie on the floor of my minivan, curled up in a tangle of blankets, feeling the heavy warmth of my five-year-old as he sleeps pressed up against me. It’s time to get back on the road. Caleb shutters awake and wordlessly climbs back into his car seat.

2pm Friday on the grounds of the Parish School in Houston: 
I pick a spot on the farthest edge of the campsite, next to the garbage bins and closest to the outdoor electrical plug. Caleb investigates the inside of a tent that is in the process of being erected. Alan, the tent’s owner, exudes a patient amusement. The tightness in my chest releases just a little.

3pm Friday on the Adventure Playground: 
One of the playworkers approaches me, gently suggesting I give Caleb some space. I acquiesce, heading off toward the keynote session. As I approach the edges of the playground, Caleb comes running after me with a cry of anxiety.

3am Saturday in a rain soaked tent: 
Illuminated by the soft glow of my phone, I research nearby hotels to the soundtrack of Caleb’s persistent coughing, the rhythmic whir of the breast pump, and a gentle patter of raindrops on tent covers.

10am Saturday in the Parish School Library: 
Warm, salty tears slip down my face as I listen to Jill Wood’s keynote on playwork and neurodiversity. She describes the manner in which neurodiverse children can struggle to keep up with the ever changing play of their peers, and the carefully considered, minimally invasive, maximally respectful interventions playworkers can implement to level the playing field. A swell of old fears and new hopes flood through my body.

3pm Saturday on the Adventure Playground:
Ali Wood and I stand together, silently watching as Caleb climbs into the clabbered-together train engine, voluntarily joining the small crowd of children that currently occupy it. Ali’s presence is warm and curious and the air around her is easy to breathe.

9am Sunday morning in the library:
Caleb evades my grasp, prowling the maze of tables, eyeing the many breakfast pastries sitting vulnerably on their plates. He snatches a giant muffin and runs out through the double doors. My embarrassment is mollified by the victim’s response of exuberant laughter -- a laughter that still rings in my ears as the epitome of what playwork strives for: unconditional positive regard.


I justified the expense and hassle of the Campference as professional development for my aspiring role as president of a non-profit organization bringing the Pop-Up Adventure Playground model and playwork discipline to St. Louis Missouri. But really, I went as a mother searching for a people, a profession, that might help show her how to provide a truly respectful and supportive environment for her autistic son. I was not disappointed.

Photo of AP by Maggie Fuller.

To hear more about Playwork Campference 2019, check out reflective blogposts here, here and here. To be part of the next Campference, please email