Tuesday, 26 March 2019

Playwork Campference 2019 - "That's playwork" - Guest Writer

Simon Rix has been in playwork since he was seventeen, taking roles at all levels in adventure playgrounds and advocacy for children's right to play. We knew it was essential that his passion, experience and political context be represented in this young and growing playwork movement. We invited him to Playwork Campference 2019 as one of the first recipients of the Playworker Travelling Fund so that he could share his expertise.

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By Simon Rix

Having been at the Playwork Campference 2017 in California, the highlight of which was not the 100 year rain storm, but the enthusiasm, solidarity and thirst for knowledge and technique that flowed from the other attendees, the flexibility of Morgan and Suzanna’s organisational skills and the willingness of facilitators to respond to appearing needs and the excellent setting of Santa Clara Valley Adventure Play

I was very excited to see that there was to be another Campference, this time in the dry weather! Playwork in the UK is currently in the doldrums… The stupidity of our government, firstly in implementing ideological austerity on the public sector; ostensibly to ‘pay for’ the banking crisis of 2008, but in reality a simple attack on public services by neo-liberal ideologues, secondly in the deliberate disruption of Brexit – both in fact measures designed to increase profit by disposing of public services, has meant a severe shrinking of the sector.

The response from UK playwork has not been one of solidarity, rather one of fratricide and the abandonment of values. In my case, that has meant redundancy from my job as a senior playworker and, despite the fact that I saved the service, which continues, no secure employment since. I looked at the flight costs… there was no way I could afford the fare. So, when Pop Up Adventure Play asked if I would be attending this one, I said that I couldn’t.

I had no idea that there could be such a thing in the Pop-Up organisation as a Playworker Travelling Fund, so I was moved to tears when I got an email offering that I could benefit from this, and so contribute to the conference!

Emails immediately flowed on what my contribution to the Campference could be, pretty soon centering on play structure building, partly as Jill at The Parish School had attended a course I ran on that in the UK several years ago. Originally, the ideas were around swings, perhaps a Tango Swing – I could bring the parts… but, even with the extraordinary support that The Parish School gives Jill and her team, children whirling seemed to be a step too far. We left the design issue fairly open…

Arriving at the Campference, what immediately struck me was the play environment that Jill and her team have been stewarding. I have worked on a number of adventure playgrounds in the UK, as a playworker, play development worker, structure builder and health and safety inspector, so I have a wide experience of sites and their ‘feel’, even when there are no children present. There are some sites where you can assess the dynamism of the children's participation and ownership and some sites where you can assess that there is none. The Parish School site speaks volumes of the former, everywhere you look there is something that somebody has made – sure, you don’t always know what it is, but that’s play - process over product. Play that is facilitated by sensitive and responsive playwork. This impression was confirmed when children came out onto the site later on.

My assessment of the Adventure Play at The Parish School site was that firstly, the team need no help at all and, secondly, that I’d like to take it home with me to show some of the stagnated adventure playgrounds here in the UK what an adventure playground actually IS.

As facilitating delegates began to arrive, and we entered the Pre-Campference discussions, I was again struck with the enthusiasm displayed. Adventure Play is about community, from the community of the adventure playground itself, through the engagement that play services have with the wider community to the community of practice we establish among ourselves. People had traveled in some cases a long way to be part of this community gathering at Campference and between them all brought a sensation of a community mobilised, at the emergent stage of a veritable movement, with all to play for – and nothing to lose.

That’s a very exciting place to be in, and a foil to the dotage expressed by a lot of playwork in my own country. It is also a testament to the work of Pop-Up Adventure Play, the thousands of miles traveled in hired cars, and the genuine contacts that have been made and nurtured on these journeys. People seemed to be enthused by and committed to the work in hand and to its reinvention on their own terms. Unlike the UK, cowed by neo-liberalism, delegates at Campference seemed well aware of the politics of the work, the politics necessary for it to grow and thrive and the responsibility on them to drive and ensure that politics is appropriate to the situation that they find themselves. Vaneigem said “let ten people meet who are resolved… rather than the long agony of survival; from this moment, despair ends and tactics begin.” This was such a meeting.

From there, my role at Campference was to be outside building a structure. Which I did gladly. I’m never happier than on the tools in the sunshine, with a free hand… The design brief was no more than the word ‘Tall’… in some ways, I was disappointed not to have been able to participate in some of the dynamic discussions happening indoors, many of which made their way outside with people who joined in the structure building.

Here's Simon, working away with Campference delegate Chenine.

The beginnings of the structure that Simon helped to construct. The children have now called "The House of Dreaming".

It’s always great to bring people into the creation, some of whom have had little experience of tool use or building, and to see them accomplish or understand maybe for the first time. I think that these skills, among others, are the authority of the playworker; if we regard authority horizontally arranged to be preferable to a hierarchical arrangement. This authority is based in the old-school use of the word, that if you want to know about such a thing, you see so-and-so, because they are an authority on it. As playworkers, it is the skills we can gather, put to work on the play site and pass on to others which is our horizontal authority stance.

It’s also a great place to mull over concepts and worries, while we complete the task in hand. True whether it’s playworkers or children… many useful discussions were had, misconceptions addressed and smiles exchanged. There was also the bits when something heavy had to be lifted, and the group came together to make it happen, with cheers and congratulations when it was successfully done. That’s playwork.

I can’t congratulate Morgan and Suzanna enough. I can’t admire Jill and her team enough. I can’t other than respect all the attendees and facilitators who made this event buzz. I so appreciated being able to attend, which was made possible by the Playworker Travelling Fund.

Playwork Campference 2019 was held on 15th-18th February on Adventure Play at The Parish School in Houston, TX - we have blogposts about it here and here too! If you want to find out more about this or want to be part of the next, email suzanna@popupadventureplay.org. Check out our facebook / twitter / instagram for more from us! 

Thursday, 7 March 2019

Playwork Campference 2019 - A Million Thank Yous

By Zan

It's been 2 weeks since the Playwork Campference 2019 ended and I am surrounded by snotty tissues. No, I am not emotional that it is all over, this is just my compulsory post-project cold. I've got to say, this is the worst one I've had for a while so this project must have been big.

And I think it was. With 101 people joining us at this 4-day, 3-night event from 9 different countries, I think that this is one of the biggest projects I've ever had my hand in!

While I am forced to slow down, I have been reflecting on the event, and have decided to take this opportunity to say thank you, on multiple fronts:

First, I would like to thank Jill of Bayou City Play and my wonderful work wife, Morgan. These two ladies formed the tidy and presentable part of the Campference 2019 Team, and I thank them for staying strong throughout the process of organising this event, for trusting me with the paperwork unquestioningly, and for their reassuring voices of reason during moments of stress and doubt. Thanks to both of them for making this process fun, for staying true to playwork and for occasionally playworking me. I am genuinely excited about any future projects we may do together!

Next, I would like to thank The Parish School, the wonderful staff there - especially Nancy Bewley - and I want to applaud Adventure Play at The Parish School - to Wes in particular - and the lovely children of AP. Thank you for opening up your site to be our home for 4 days. Thank you for letting us roam around your home turf for a few days and for being so welcoming too. Without your grounds, we won't have been able to accommodate our campers. Without your kitchens we wouldn't have been able to feed our delegates. Without your school we wouldn't have been able to run our workshops or understand the significance of history on an adventurous play space. Thank you so much for saying "yes".

Now I would like to thank all those who volunteered their time at Campference - to our keynotes, Jill and Ali for their constant and knowledgeable presence throughout the event, and to every single one of you to presented too. Sorry about the time-keeping and technological mishaps - you are patient and kind people. Thank you for your wisdom, your stories, and your willingness to share. A big thank you to those of you who flew along with our ever changing rota of responsibilities, who washed dishes, prepared food, washed pots, wrestled vegetables into foil, tracked down lost potatoes and took part in the biggest chilli party any Campference has ever seen. Thanks too to those who hung out with the children, who helped to ensure that parents who attended the Campference were able to find time to participate, who ran, who chased, who danced, climbed, hammered, and who ended up having a water fight. Thank you for using your playwork skills during this time. Thank you for your fluidity and flexibility in the scheduling confusion, and for having the children's best interest at the forefront of this gathering. A huge thank you to those who put up and took down tents that may not even have belonged to you, for those who created the outdoor shower and for those to braved it, and for those who snapped beautiful photos for yourself and for others. Thanks for spotting the armadillo, for checking out the baby frog, and for not running away screaming when the fire alarm sounded. Thanks to the folks who mucked in at a moment's notice, who helped to locate lost kitchen items, or had to pop out unexpectedly to get emergency supplies. Thanks to those who stepped out of their comfort zone to meet a new friend, who may have been scheduled with new faces to work in a strange task, and those who we called upon for advice and gave it honestly and freely. Thanks to those who helped to clean toilets, who vacuumed endlessly, and whoever it was that kept skillfully disposing of the Unmarked Beverage Recycling. Particular mention too, to the person who helped us remove the (ahem) Disguarded Unmentionable from the middle of the campsite at the end of the Campference. You know who you are and you are awesome. You know who you all are, and you are all awesome. Thank you so much.

I know that I am rambling, but I think it is important to continue this train of thought. My brain might be fuzzy with this dreadful cold, but my heart is still full. Bear with me as I carry on:

I want to thank all 88 adults and 13 children that came to this 4-day, 3-night event. Thank you for trusting us to create a schedule (sked-du-el / shed-du-el) that would be of interest to you. Thank you for making the journey to Houston from all over the world and believing in our promises that we will take care of your needs in terms of accommodation, food and workshops. We hope that we met all those needs and that you enjoyed your time with us. Thank you for making Campference 2019 the spectacular event that it was.

Lastly and importantly, I want to give my final thank you to Playwork. This is a field that embraces the uniqueness of all, and the playfulness of everyone: a lifestyle that so many of us have chosen to identify with, and tell the world about. I want to thank playwork for being the reason that 101 people got together on a cooler-than-usual February in Houston. I want to thank playwork for being the word that we have all discovered that describes that passion for children's play advocacy, that love of children's rights, and that fire in our bellies to do something more for children, for humanity. It is in the name of playwork that we get together and talk about intricacies in practice, we discuss our barriers and successes, and we share our dramatic and hilarious stories. It is because of playwork that we will continue to work, to gather like-minded folk together, and spend far too much time on social media. No matter how much hard work it is, we are thankful that is field exists, and we are doing our part to make it grow.

Here we all are, delegates from Campference 2019 on Adventure Play at The Parish School.

Playwork Campference 2019 was a spectacular event. If you want to be part of the next Campference or want to learn more about this one, throw us an email, or get in touch using Facebook or Twitter. We're looking forward to even more amazing playwork moments. 

Friday, 1 March 2019

Playwork Campference 2019 - "...we practice ways out and in of play." - Guest Writer

We have invited our one of the first recipients of the Playworker Travelling Fund, Ana Rita to write about the journey that she took with Pop-Up Adventure Play to the Playwork Campference 2019. We haven't quite written about it yet (our reflection time is taking a little longer than expected), but we thought we'd give you Ana Rita's version of events first. Ana Rita is from Portugal and is one of the co-founders of 1,2,3 macaquinho do xinês (which roughly translates into "What time is it Mr Wolf") and is one of the students on our Playworker Development Course.

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By Ana Rita Secca da Fonseca

Today I had my first playwork session after attending the Playwork Campference 2019Together with two other people, I co-founded a play provision and advocacy project based on the Playwork Principles. After three years of existence, we are now working in a primary school during lunch break recess once a week. Just before I left to the Campference, we had a hard time in one of the sessions. There was a split between three groups of children and each group occupied different corners of the playground, created dens and started a very fast dynamic of stealing things from each other. A lot of crying erupted and also complaints of aggression. I was feeling the eyes of the school staff rolling and imagining how many concessions we would have to go through in order to get the school to continue to support the project. That day I left feeling very frustrated and sad. What could I have done more or differently? I started looking for literature about this type of behavior, reviewed my Playwork Development Course materials, discussed the topic with the other playworkers, but the feeling did not wash away. Then I left to the Campference.

One of the first things that I remember hearing at the Campference was that there are no recipes in playwork practice. We have been feeling isolated here in Portugal. There is no such thing as a playworker career. We have learned it on our own terms, reading, discussing, searching for projects that could inspire us and reaching out to Pop-Adventure Playground and enrolling into the Playwork Development Course. I have been having so many questions and doubts that it always felt that we might be doing things wrongly because indeed we were unable to find a recipe. So, I smiled when I heard Morgan saying that. As the hours went by, I accumulated inside my body honest and poetic reports about the playwork practice from all the different people. The feeling that I was part of a community sank in and I felt safe and nurtured.

In one of the last sessions at the Campference, there was a though discussion on how to playwork when children behave in ways that mistreat others or that can be offensive to gender or culture –challenging behavior at its best. Stories started to unfold from one corner of the room to the other. Some people collect plant leaves, post-cards, mugs. Playworkers collect stories. These stories create inside us new possibilities of action, new pathways for play, endurance, compassion and humanity. I guess it is why it is called playwork practice. Because we practice ways out and in of play.

Here is Ana Rita performing at the Untalent Show on the second evening.

Today when I entered the play site, I felt different. Not sure what exactly it was. Then the children came in. Not long after the playframe installed itself. Many children were running around stealing things from each other. A few were crying, a few were insulting others, a few were building over and over again after several strikes. But this time I felt confident, safe, relaxed. And that was new to me, in a situation like that. It is because I have Morgan, Suzanna, Ali, Chris, Simon, Kelsey, Jill, Wes, Courtney, Alex, Naomi, Susie, Yula, Laura and all the others with me and I can get back to them and to their stories in my mind and heart or just write an email, reaching out.

I feel extremely thankful for the opportunity that was given to me through the Pop-Up Adventure Play Playworker Travelling Fund to attend the Campference. I also want to thank to Pop-Up Adventure Play (Suzanna Law and Morgan Leichter-Saxby) for connecting everybody, for nurturing the playwork movement, for creating and maintaining the Playwork Development Course and also the other support materials and for taking the herculean task of organizing the Playwork Campference, promoting cohesion within the playwork community and the transmission of knowledge.
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The Playwork Campference 2019 was on 15th-18th February 2019 and was hosted in Houston, Texas at Adventure Play at The Parish School, lead by the wonderful Jill Wood. We're going to be writing more about this in the weeks to come, but for now, enjoy the photos here and here.