Sunday, 27 September 2015

The World Tour Begins!

By Zan

To kick start our World Tour, we invited our Board of Directors to meet us in Manchester where we officially had our first stop! It was pretty low key, but it was great to tell our board members just how Morgan and I had done over the past year, and to hear the support that they have for us as we continue our work for children's play all over the world.

Without further ado, allow me to introduce our board:

From left to right:
Ricky Tsang (Director), Andy Hinchcliffe (Director), Suzanna Law (me, Employee), Michelle Jones (Director) and Morgan Leichter-Saxby (Employee)

We had a great day reporting on existing projects and talking about future plans. It was wonderful to be surrounded by people who have our best interests at heart, and genuinely look out for us. I felt a little emotional and pleased to have such good people around me. I'm pretty sure Morgan felt the same way.

We also invited one of our Playworker Development Course tutors to join us too! We would have asked everyone but only one lives within a reasonable driving distance away for food! :)

Here we are with David Stonehouse (Tutor) all looking cool and pretending to be rockstars. Haha.

A good portion of our day was dedicated to play too. We managed to wrangle an awesome location for our board meeting. When I say awesome, I mean private land with Easter Island statue, fishing pond, pizza oven and a zip line. Yes, that's how we roll!

I'm excited now as we start the World Tour and look forward to seeing our wonderful board again this time next year - we'll have lots of adventures to talk about!

To find out more about our World Tour please visit our special tour page or follow #PopUpsWorldTour2015 on Twitter. To read more about Zan's adventures, please visit her personal blog. For more on Pop-Up Adventure Play simple visit

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Play Advocacy in Blackpool

By Zan

After a glorious fire and den building session in Blackpool, we were invited back again to host a Play Advocacy Day. It was a particularly blue-sky day as we approached the LeftCoast office to talk to about 15 adults from different Blackpool services who all came together in the name of play.

We were pleased to kick start the day with an hour long talk about play, the possibilities and importance. We were followed by architect Nils Norman who spoke about some of the projects that he had designed, and then we came to the interactive part of the day - our very own little pop-up adventure playground. We invited everyone to come and play. Here are some photos:

After a few moments of hesitation, everyone got stuck in.

Big things were built, to compete with other big things that were built.

This is a happy robot that I may or may not have accidentally sabotaged. Sorry robot people.

This is the Blackpool Tower.

This is a fort, and definitely not a tent. And there is definitely a person inside there.

Blackpool Tower complete - but not the tallest creation in the room!

The whole day was a lovely reminder that sometimes we get lost in a world of adult priorities and forget that children should also be prioritised. It seemed like we were in a room full of kindred spirits who wanted more information and ideas on how to make that work in play. Our workshop participants really seemed to enjoy the play, the play talk and look like they are already making plans to make a more playful Blackpool. 

We were really excited to meet such wonderful people yesterday, and we hope to be part of the discussions as they prepare to make Blackpool a much more child-directed, play-filled place.

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Preparing to Play in the Cone - Guest Writer

By Nicole Wulff

Nicole approached us a couple of months ago to ask if she could do a Pop-Up Adventure Playground. Before she knew, she had a location and occasion to run one and we talked her through some of the things she would need for it. She kindly agreed to write up some of her thoughts in the run up to the event for our blog - thanks Nicole!

We were in the cone. Anyone living in the Gulf Coast of the United States knows exactly what that means at this time of year, it’s hurricane season. Weather maps show the characteristic “cone” shape representing the predicted path of the storm and the areas likely to be impacted. Tropical Storm Erika was tearing across the Caribbean and headed our way, predicted to bring heavy rains just in time for my very first pop-up adventure playground. Seven days out and the map could no longer be ignored, almost the entire state would be affected, it was headed right for us. I was devastated.

It had been a whirlwind of preparations for the event. I had met the executive director of a local NGO, the Florida Community Design Center, just the week before he called to invite me to stage the city’s first pop-up adventure playground in conjunction with the groundbreaking ceremony for a local park.  How exciting! What a great opportunity, I thought to myself. I opened my calendar and asked him for the event date. It was in just 4 short weeks. My heart sank, I had no materials, no volunteers, and no idea how I was going to pull this off but I committed anyway. Did I mention that I have two young children that take up most of my daily awake time? I felt unprepared and overwhelmed.

First, I immediately put a call out to all friends and family to save their recyclables, clean out their closets, and refrain from throwing away anything that a child could possibly play with. I waited. I raided my own recycling bin. I had exactly 3 items- a plastic milk jug and plastic strawberry and mushroom containers. My confidence sank and I frantically emailed Suzanna with Pop-Up Adventure Play. I’m currently enrolled in the Playworker Development Course and only a quarter of the way through it. Suzanna is my mentor for the course.  She responded immediately and tried her best to put me at ease. She suggested their resource packet. It’s a great place to start and includes lists of things to collect and do in preparation; I love lists! The steps were doable, the materials commonplace. I felt better.

Next, I called my parents! I arranged for them to watch my two year old for three days. I made phone calls.  I touched base with friends. I visited the event location. Over the next few weeks, members of the NGO reached out to help. I drove all over town picking up donations from people. Volunteers surfaced. I bought essential supplies at the dollar store. Before I knew it, my garage was overflowing with an amazing collection of fun stuff including but not limited to: huge pieces of foam, sheets, seashells, mannequin legs and arms, huge cardboard tubes, tree cookies, balls, wrapping paper, a parachute, boxes, and more egg cartons than I could have ever imagined. Things were coming together. I started to get excited.

As the event drew near, I took a look at the forecast and there it was, brewing in the Atlantic, Erika. I couldn’t believe it. I checked the weather channel constantly as I made last preparations for the pop-up adventure playground. And then, I watched as the storm miraculously began to break up. It dissipated over Cuba, the cone vanished from the weather maps. We had two days of rains and then the morning of the event, the sun came out. It was glorious. The playground looked fantastic and a good time was had by all.

If you'd like to host your own Pop-Up Adventure Playground, grab our handy resource pack from here. If you'd like to learn more about our Playworker Development Course, get in touch with

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Adventure Play on the Big Screen

By Morgan

We're pretty convinced that adventure playgrounds are the most gorgeous 'ugly' places you'll ever see.

The best ones are packed with junk such as scrap wood, piles of dirt and abandoned tires. They'll be exposed to the elements and usually covered in a layer of mud. They can seem messy and chaotic, even a little dangerous.

They are.

To children, this makes them places of freedom and possibility – places where 'anything might happen', and that's incredibly exciting. One new employee at the Ithaca Children's Garden Hands-on-Nature Anarchy Zone in NY called the site “post-apocalyptic but, you know, in a good way”. A good adventure playground is as fertile as a compost heap and just as pretty. What becomes clear, for those lucky enough to see, is that pretty is not the point.

We all benefit from projects which guide new enthusiasts gently through these dynamic, challenging, remarkable places, and one of the best guides today is documentary filmmaker Erin Davis. Her short film The Land, filmed in Wrexham in Wales, has received considerable press and interest, as has the adventure playground it depicts. The film has been accepted to festivals like the Camden International Film Festival in Maine, and screened at public events such as last month's Play Space. Hosted by the Community Design Collective in Philadelphia, PA, this day included a workshop introducing essential playwork practice for local educators through DVAEYC. I was honored to be a part of it, and to meet so many advocates of children's play.

The film, unsurprisingly, cues in all sorts of conversations around risk, challenge, and children's rights in play. Erin's film doesn't shy away from the realities of adventure playgrounds, and the audience watched as children built fires, used gloriously foul language, and climbed incredibly high trees. However, Erin always goes for humanity over sensationalism. She includes interviews with playwork staff, who explain their processes of risk/benefit assessment, and and how they make decisions regarding intervention. In this way, The Land accomplishes something remarkable, countering panicky reactions by focusing on the strange and eloquent beauty of children's free play. We feel as if we know the children we follow as individuals, and come to trust both them and their playworkers. As the children swagger and tease, I heard some laughs of recognition among the crowd. We were all reminded together that childhood, and play, encompass so much more than what is nice or cute or safe. Play encompasses the full range of human experience and emotion. As playworkers, we accept that truth and so are more able to accept the children we meet as whole people, without judgment.

Afterwards, Erin and I sat side-by-side onstage and fielded questions from the audience. The obvious questions came up early, of risk and liability, staff training and building relationships with the parents. This is the second Q&A for this movie I've been involved in, and both times I was amazed and gratified both by the wealth of questions (how inspired people were to learn more, right away) and by their questions' depth. People were not asking why these places exist, they were asking how to start building more, here, today. They were looking for ways to begin, whether through pop-up adventure playgrounds or simply putting up a rope swing in their own backyards. All we had to do was highlight other places to learn more and say yes yes, always yes to getting started. Start small, make friends, keep going.

The Land, June 2015

For anyone who loves play, this film is an amazing way to kick-start those conversations locally. The intimacy of this film reaches people on a gut level, showing the power of children's play on its own terms. Audience members may extend that through their own curiosities, asking about gender dynamics or social exclusion, wondering about playwork theory of play frames or cues, reaching towards notions of adulteration and therapeutic benefits.

This, for me, is the true sign of the film's success. Like an adventure playground, this film inspires people to each pursue their own interests, their own brand new passions, and to make friends to take those journeys with. The Land, is packed with stories and lead by the children, whose voices ring out. The only complaint I heard from viewers was that it wasn't nearly long enough. They wanted to know more of the day, to meet more children, to see what happened later that day and the next. Like anyone who's had a taste of real, powerful, rich play, they only wanted more.

If you want to see The Land for yourself, there's another chance coming up next month at the Ithaca Play Symposium! Suzanna and I will be joining a range of passionate speakers focusing on all sorts of issues surrounding adventure play, and will be there as part of our Pop-Ups World Tour 2015. Click here, for more info about the Symposium, and here for more info about our Tour.

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Pop-Up Play Shop Conwy - Guest Writers

By Millie Boswell and Gareth Stacey, CVSC Play Development Team Conwy

The Play Development Team at Conwy first approached us at Pop-Ups HQ a few months ago, explaining how they wanted to open their very own Pop-Up Play Shop. This was a wonderful moment as it meant that our toolkit was working its magic. We are really grateful to have a blogpost written by Millie who lead the team at the shop for 2 glorious weeks.

The idea of running a Pop Up Play Shop in Conwy was first thought of when we came across Pop Up Adventure Play’s Toolkit on their website. This fired up our imaginations and we decided we wanted to play shop too!

Our shop was run over a fortnight in Colwyn Bay, North Wales. We set up the shop with help from lots of different agencies including Communities First! Dewis Chwarae, Groundwork North Wales and Play Wales. We had an enormous retail unit so we crammed it full of loose parts and opened the doors! 

We found that families needed enticing into the shop as many wouldn’t enter on their own perhaps because they didn’t know what it was or they were worried about cost. However once they were in we had great feedback! We found it very interesting how children entered and approached the space. Some children immediately threw themselves at the large loose parts and set about playing. However the majority of children seemed to need time to get used to the space. This may be because there are no playwork settings in Conwy and very few playschemes using loose parts so for many children it was their first time seeing loose parts on mass! We also reflected that perhaps it was slightly disorientating going shopping and suddenly finding a haven of play! In order to welcome children into the space playworkers first suggested more structured activities such as jenga, table tennis or arts and crafts. This seemed to work well as a bridging activity and as the children became used to the space they progressed to becoming immersed in their own freely chosen play. 

We had quite a unique team working in the shop I (Millie) was in the shop all day everyday and then had different playworkers from all the organisations mentioned above joining me each day. This was a fantastic way of working as it meant we had new persepctives on the space every few days and the shop was always evolving. 

It was extremely important to us that the space was accessible and attractive to all ages and we were pleased to draw in young people as well as younger children. However, some young people interacted in a way which some of the general public found difficult. They were very loud and were keen on very active, rough and tumble play, which was quite often on the edge of chaos if not boiling over the edge! Whilst this kind of behaviour is very normal and is manageable in an open setting it became challenging in the shop, as we as playworkers were very aware of damage to the shop fittings and were mindful of the reputation of the project and of playwork practice. All of these factors meant that we intervened earlier in the play than might have occurred in an open setting such as a park. 

There was a lot of fantasy, imaginative, dramatic, socio-dramatic and role play, more so than most outdoor play sessions, perhaps because of the many play cues and affordances offered by the shop and loose parts. Also, it felt as though the walls of the space itself created a physical frame which held and extended play frames that might other wise have been annihilated quickly in an open setting. Unsurprisingly there was much exploratory and object play with the various loose parts. 

Historically, CVSC Play Development Team has struggled to engage with parents either due to other demands on their time meaning low numbers on parent courses or the nature of open access play sessions meaning most children attend on their own. The Pop Up Play Shop was the most successful project we have run in terms of engaging with parents. Parents stayed with their children, often for a couple of hours, meaning playworkers were able to advocate for play, suggest ideas for play opportunities and discuss barriers to play. 

Thanks Pop Up Adventure Play for the inspiration and top tips! We had a great time playing shop and are hoping to repeat it soon!

If you are thinking of opening your very own Pop-Up Play Shop, grab a copy of our toolkit and get in touch! For more Pop-Up ideas, please visit our website