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!