Monday, 12 May 2014

Running Up the Down Escalator: Improving Opportunities for Play in Our City Centres

By Morgan

We used to hear a child screaming and grin at each other, knowing they were headed our way. When they arrived the child would be clawing at the straps in their pushchair, desperate to run around. The mother would drop her bag and head for the sofa, equally desperate for the chance to sit down. This was a Pop-Up Play Shop, converting an empty shopfront into an all-ages, all-abilities play setting that is completely free.

You might remember hearing about our Pop-Up Play Shop pilots in Cardiff (with Re-Create Scrap Store) and Paignton (with Play Torbay). You might have seen some of the photographs, archived here. It was an amazing experience, to fill a little neglected corner of a shopping mall with cardboard boxes, glitter paint and the extraordinary job of self-directed play.

For us, it was a reminder of how much “no” children hear in the course of an ordinary visit downtown. Stop running up the down escalator, don't touch that, get down from there – the list is endless! Instead, we offered the opportunity to do nearly anything. Yes, you can pour out that tub of conkers. Yes, you can paint on the walls. The shop had been empty for years before we came along, opening it up for people who had very few places to go. We heard so many stories.

One mother of an autistic boy told us that she'd always hated coming into town. The noises he made attracted funny looks in the bank, she said, “but here I know that it's okay. I can relax, here, and so can he.” One father who'd recently gained custody of his daughters came regularly, asking us for advice on birthday and Christmas presents. Again and again, we found that opening our doors to everybody meant that those people widely considered “hard to reach” came walking right in. We loved this pilot, and the model it offered for low-cost, high-impact play provision right in our downtowns.

As a result, we are extremely proud to announce the launch of our Pop-Up Play Shop Toolkit! Funded by Awards for All, it's packed with stories, questions and helpful tips. It can be downloaded for free here, or hardcopies from a limited print run are available for purchase.

We'd love to help more organizations start their own Pop-Up Play Shops, and to hear from anyone that's doing this already! Let's get connected and support one another!

To hear more about the Pop-Up Play Shop that we ran in Cardiff, please visit the website. There are also a couple of blog posts about it too. Don't forget to hop onto our mailing list to get Pop-Ups in Your Inbox, the newsletter from us to you -

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Pop-Ups Tour 2014: Thank You (Part 3)

By Morgan

Thank you to YOU

We've been so grateful for the opportunity to do this tour, and to be a part of this movement in support of play.  It was hard work, but also in many ways an absolute luxury to dedicate two whole months to meeting other people who are already improving opportunities for children's play, or who are curious to learn more.  We do a version of that nearly every day online, but there's nothing like seeing the faces of people as you talk and plan and play together.

We were nervous to ask for financial assistance for this project, and were very touched by the generous support we received from family, friends and contacts from around the world.  Our largest donation came from KaBOOM, who provided the match-funding that helped us reach our target.  Bernie DeKoven, author of The Well-Played Game, actually donated twice and sent us a note that said " HUZZAH FOR POPUP AND FOR THE WORLD".  How's that for encouragement? 

Once on the road, we were stunned by the reception we received from hosts. One called us "the Johnny Appleseeds of play", but we felt more like a catalyst - an excuse for them to bring people together, a spark for play and conversation. In Portland, our host (Leon of EarthPlay) told us how he'd been gathering volunteers and talking with us to train them in playwork, but was having terrible trouble finding a location.  After the workshop, a woman came up to introduce herself.  "I've never thought so seriously about play before," she said.  "But you've convinced me how important it is and I want to be involved but don't know how.  I don't have much time or money, just this piece of land..."

I'm fond of saying that holding a pop-up adventure playground is a bit like throwing a party.  Every single time I worry "what if no one comes?"  And then, when people starting arriving I fret "what if EVERYBODY comes?"  We've been a part of tiny events and huge ones, and every time what we remember afterwards are moments with individuals.  There was a little girl in Louisville who stayed for hours, in spite of the bitter cold, to build a box house and be thrown around inside a big sheet, to ride what she called "the princess trolley" up and down the cracked sidewalk.  Through all of it she kept shouting "this is the best day EVER!"

That's why this last thank you post goes to you - yes, YOU.  Whether you joined a tour stop or not, whether you were part of our crowd-sourcing team of awesomeness or not, whether this is the first time you've been to our site or the thousandth, thank you for being a part of this.  Without your support at the beginning, this tour would have stalled in our driveway.  Without your attending the events, we'd just have been standing in a field with boxes.  

Together, we're far greater than we are apart.  Together, we're a movement.

This is the third of three posts thanking everyone for being part of the Pop-Up Adventure Play Tour 2014. If you'd like to see more photos from this tour, please visit our facebook page. Sign up to our mailing list too for Pop-Ups in your Inbox! If you want to be part of next year's tour, please get in touch with